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 caused by 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. Lockjaw or trismus 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 is Lockjaw?

How Do You Get Lockjaw?

Lockjaw or Trismus 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 –

  • Titanus as a Cause of Lockjaw: 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 of course it spreads to the rest of the body parts eventually. 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.
  • Lockjaw Caused Due to Inflammation of the Soft Tissue: Though Titanus is a much recognised 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 of Lockjaw: 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.

What is the Treatment for Lockjaw?

Lockjaw or Trismus is a very disturbing and quite a painful condition. What is crucial is that this condition must not be ignored as a minor issue. It can, actually, indicate a serious internal illness. Hence, diagnosis of the root cause 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 are –

  • Apply warm compress by using a hot water bag or a hot towel, several times a day, so that it loosens the locked jaw muscles.
  • Use 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.
  • Take 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 a little and trying to move the mouth from one side to the other and reverse will 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 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.

Written, Edited or Reviewed By:

, MD, FFARCSI

Last Modified On: April 11, 2017

Pain Assist Inc.

Pramod Kerkar
  Note: Information provided is not a substitute for physician, hospital or any form of medical care. Examination and Investigation is necessary for correct diagnosis.

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