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Home Dentist What is Lock Jaw? Can You Fix It at Home?

What is Lock Jaw? Can You Fix It at Home?

What is Lock Jaw? Can You Fix It at Home?

Imagine not being able to open or close your mouth. For people with lock jaw, this can be a frightening experience. Although it might sound uncommon, around 5-12% of people have experienced their jaw locking at some point in their lives. But what exactly is lock jaw? What causes it, and how can it be treated? Let’s take a closer look at this condition and understand how to treat Lock Jaw

What is Lock jaw?

Lock jaw, also known as jaw lock, is a condition affecting the temporomandibular joint (TMJ). This joint connects your lower jaw to your skull. When you have lock jaw, your lower jaw gets stuck, either open or closed.

Types of Lock jaw:

  • Open Lock: This happens when you can’t fully close your mouth or bring your teeth together.
  • Closed Lock: This happens when your mouth is stuck in a closed position, and you can’t open it wide enough to fit two fingers.

Lock jaw occurs when something causes the TMJ to become misaligned. The articular disc, which helps keep the upper and lower jaws in place, can become dislocated, causing the jaw to get “locked” in either an open or closed position.

Causes of Lock jaw:

  • Injury to Jaw Cartilage: Often due to clenching or grinding your teeth.
  • Bad Bite: Can cause facial and jaw muscles to become inflamed.
  • Muscle Strain or Spasms: Overuse or tension in the jaw muscles.
  • Temporary Dislocation of the TMJ: When the joint briefly slips out of place.

Symptoms before Lock jaw

Before experiencing lock jaw, patients might notice several warning signs, including:

  • Pain when moving the jaw
  • Stiffness in the jaw
  • Popping noises in the jaw
  • Earaches or ringing in the ears
  • Clicking sounds in the jaw
  • Facial pain
  • Nerve pain

Sometimes, lock jaw can happen suddenly, without any warning, causing a lot of distress. Trying to reposition the jaw can be very painful, adding to the discomfort. Patients don’t know why or how their jaw became locked. It’s often the result of several factors building up over time.

Other Causes of Lock Jaw

While TMJ disorder and muscle strain are the most common causes of lock jaw, other factors can also lead to this condition:

1. Wisdom Teeth

Sometimes, the eruption of wisdom teeth in a poor position can cause lock jaw. Here’s how:

  • Infection: Infected wisdom teeth can cause swelling that limits jaw movement.
  • Jaw Pressure: The teeth might push on the jaw, preventing it from moving properly.

2. Inflammation

Inflammation, especially due to trauma from an accident, can cause lock jaw. Swelling in the jaw area can restrict its movement, leading to a lock jaw.

3. Teeth Grinding

Teeth clenching and grinding, known as bruxism, can also lead to lock jaw. This condition can be caused by:

  • Dental problems
  • Stress
  • Genetics
  •  Misaligned teeth

Teeth grinding often occurs at night, and patients may not realize its happening. Persistent bruxism can cause tightness and soreness in the neck, jaw, and face, and sometimes earaches and headaches. Over time, it can lead to lock jaw and is often associated with TMJ disorder.

4. Tetanus (Rare)

Though rare today, tetanus can cause lock jaw. Tetanus is a serious bacterial infection, and one of its first symptoms is lock jaw because the infection affects the nervous system and muscles, causing them to tighten and contract.

Most people are vaccinated against tetanus, making the infection uncommon.

Things to Do if Your Jaw Locks…!

If your jaw locks, the most important thing is not to panic. Staying calm will help reduce tension in your neck and jaw, making it easier to treat Lock Jaw.


  • Relax: Keep your jaw as relaxed as possible.
  • Gentle Movements: Place your palms on each side of your jaw. Try gently wiggling your jaw back and forth and side to side. If you feel pain, stop immediately to avoid injury.

 Some Useful Tips:

  • Warm Compress: Apply a warm compress to relax tight jaw muscles. Repeat several times a day if needed.
  • Cold Compress: Use a cold compress to reduce pain and inflammation.
  • Anti-Inflammatory Medication: Take over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication every six hours.
  • Jaw Stretches: Stretch your jaw 2-3 times daily to loosen the muscles.
  • Stay Hydrated: Drink plenty of water to keep your jaw muscles loose.
  • Reduce Stress: Minimize stress and anxiety to prevent jaw clenching.
  • Calcium and Magnesium: Eat foods rich in calcium and magnesium to support TMJ health.

If you can’t unlock your jaw personally, schedule an appointment with  

Best Exercises to Treat Jaw Tightness

Smile Stretch:

  1.   Make the widest smile you can without pain or tightness.
  2.   Slowly open your jaw about two inches.
  3.   Take a deep breath.
  4.   Repeat 5-10 times.

Jaw Stretch:

  1.   Press the tip of your tongue to the roof of your mouth.
  2.   Gently open your mouth as wide as you can.
  3.   Slowly close your mouth.
  4.   Stop if you feel discomfort. Avoid if you’re already in pain.

What if You Don’t Treat Lockjaw Immediately?

Patients usually don’t wait to treat a lock jaw because it’s uncomfortable, painful, and distressing. However, if treatment of Lock Jaw is delayed, it can lead to other problems:

  • Difficulty chewing and eating
  • Trouble breathing properly
  • Inability to fully open or close your mouth
  • Persistent pain and discomfort
  • Sleep apnea symptoms

Over time, untreated lock jaw can cause the ligaments in the jaw to become loose due to torn fibers. This prevents the disc from moving back into place when you open your mouth. Bone-to-bone contact occurs without the disc cushioning the joint, leading to joint deterioration. This can cause pain, like eating a banana, even with small jaw movements.

Final Words

The best way to prevent a lock jaw is to address any jaw stiffness or TMJ issues early. Scheduling an evaluation at the first sign of problems can help prevent severe TMJ and lock jaw issues. Early intervention is critical. Contact us for further details or find the expert dentist at