What is Lockjaw?

27 Feb 2018
Dental care - Dental Procedures - Oral Health - Preventative Care
lockjaw

There are many ailments that can plague our everyday lives from simple colds to serious medical conditions. The most dangerous thing about these is that they are often overlooked and people attempt to “tough them out” when really, they are symptoms of serious and sometimes lethal problems that must be examined and dealt with immediately. One of these ailments is lockjaw otherwise known as trismus. We take a look at what lockjaw is, along with the causes and symptoms.

What is lockjaw?

Lockjaw or trismus, refers to a disorder of the jaw muscles. It is a spasm of the mastication muscles in the jaw that limits the opening of the mouth. Clinically, trismus refers to the limitation of jaw opening or mouth opening due to muscular spasm. However, in a widely accepted concept, regardless of the cause behind this limitation, any type of difficulty in opening the mouth or jaw is referred to as lockjaw or trismus. Lockjaw causes serious trouble in speaking, eating or even in maintaining the usual oral hygiene. It can be a temporary problem, as well as a permanent one. However, temporary lockjaws are more frequent. In severe cases, it can even alter the facial appearance. It can be a seriously distressing and painful condition in which even swallowing becomes a problem. What makes it even more difficult is the limitation to examine or diagnose the oral cavity as opening the mouth is limited or absolutely impossible at times.

What causes lockjaw?

Lockjaw can occur due to various reasons. Though the problem itself is not harmful, it indicates a possibility of some other serious ailments, illnesses or health issues. These include:

  • Tetanus: This serious bacterial infection is often a major cause behind lockjaw. It affects the muscles and the nervous system throughout the body. Therefore, the muscles tighten and contract. This infection often affects the muscles of the neck and jaw, but eventually spreads to the rest of the body. Animal bites, burns, cuts, wounds, insect bites, tattoos, piercing, chronic infection, injection drug or even a dental infection may cause tetanus and this may lead to a lockjaw. To talk about the mechanism, it must be mentioned that in case of tetanus, small reproductive spores of Clostridium tetani bacteria enter the bloodstream through cuts or wounds and other sources and produces the tetanospasmin toxin that blocks the nerve signals of the central nervous system acting as a poison. This causes the muscular spasms and thus the muscles of the jaw are also blocked.
  • Inflammation of the Soft Tissue: Though tetanus is a much recognized and widely accepted common cause of lockjaw, it is not the only cause behind this condition. Inflammation of the soft tissue is yet another very common and possible cause of lockjaw. There are various reasons why one gets an inflammation in the soft tissue of the jaws and these include – too much usage of the mouth or too much chewing commonly referred to as over mastication, TMD or Temporomandibular joint disorder and others.
  • Other Causes: Apart from the already mentioned causes, there are other causes as well that result in lockjaw and these include fevers or other oral diseases and illnesses that have symptoms in the mouth. As the soft tissue of the mouth can’t be opened or moved, swelling and weakness is an obvious consequence.

How do you treat lockjaw?

Lockjaw is a very disturbing and painful condition. It is crucial that this condition not be dismissed as a minor issue, as it can actually indicate a serious internal illness. Hence, a proper diagnosis is a must and the treatment will always focus on curing the cause of the condition, so that the lockjaw disorder automatically subsides. If the underlying cause is tetanus, treatment must be exacted for that. Sometimes, dental problems and other oral diseases and illnesses lead to lockjaw. In that case, treatment should follow those illnesses. However, along with treating the underlying condition, it is a must that you take care of the painful condition of lockjaw itself. There are simple natural treatments and home remedies that can be quite useful. These include:

  • Applying a warm compress by using a hot water bag or a hot towel, several times a day, so that it loosens the locked jaw muscles.
  • Using cold packs as this will relieve off the pain associated with lockjaw.
  • Rectifying your posture is crucial to prevent the lockjaw condition from worsening. Sit in an erect position and sleep on your back and not on your side. You can use cervical pillows to maintain a proper sleeping position.
  • Taking magnesium and calcium rich foods. Nuts and seeds like almonds, Brazil nuts, watermelon seeds, sesame seeds and flaxseeds are rich in magnesium that contributes towards the good health of the nervous system and relaxes the jaw muscles. On the other hand, the milk and milk based products as well as various nuts are rich in calcium that can strengthen the bones and reduce the pain associated with lockjaw.
  • You should also try and practice a little jaw exercises. Though these may seem too painful in the beginning, they will actually be very helpful in unlocking the lockjaw. Opening the jaw slightly and repeatedly trying to move the mouth from one side to the other help in unlocking the jaw.
  • Staying hydrated is a must, not just for unlocking your lockjaw, but for an overall healthy, detoxified body. Drinking sufficient quantity of water everyday will help your jaw muscles stay in shape.

Apart from these useful methods, there are certain home remedies like applying hot garlic and mustard oil on the lockjaw and drinking herbal tea with chamomile, kava, passion flower and feverfew help in reducing the pain in lockjaw and release the locked muscles. However, before accessing these home remedies, seeing a doctor is a must as diagnosis of the root cause is crucial for lockjaw. Otherwise, the possible underlying disease may never subside.

Do you have questions about lockjaw? Call Hartnett Dental to schedule an appointment with your dentist today! (716) 649-6633.