Imagine suddenly not being able to open or close your mouth. Communication would be out the window, and not being in control of your mouth can definitely leave you panicked. Lock jaw can come with little to no warning–though it may also be preceded by symptoms like jaw clicking and popping–and can be indicative of a bigger problem with your jaw.
What Exactly Is It?
It is important to know that lock jaw is a symptom and could indicate the presence of a number of illnesses or conditions. The most common cause of lock jaw is damage to the soft tissue of the mouth. Conditions such as TMJ can cause this, as well as something as simple as chewing on something too much, which leaves the soft tissue inflamed and swollen as opposed to specifically damaged. Chewing gum is a major contributor to this.
Infections such as tetanus can cause lock jaw, but are relatively uncommon now due to vaccinations. It is important to note that that tetanus can be lethal so it is important to go to the doctor if you notice lock jaw.
I Can’t Close My Jaw
Lock jaw comes in two different varieties: open lock and closed lock. Typically an adult can open their mouth about 50 mm, although exactly how large depends on factors such as height and sex. With open lock jaw your jaw will be locked open typically over 50 mm and you will be unable to close it. With closed lock jaw your jaw will be locked with an opening less than 30 mm. In both cases the jaw is locked, but the opening of your mouth determines whether it is open lock jaw or closed lock jaw.
Both types of lock jaw may be associated with jaw pain or they may be relatively painless.
Don’t Shrug it Off
It is easy to simply shrug off lock jaw, especially if it is more of a snag than locked for an extended period of time. Although, as we previously mentioned, lock jaw is simply a symptom and could indicate a larger, sometimes life threatening problem.