The Health Advocate

by Hannah Whittenly, The Health Advocate

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Problems in the jaw can lead to pain in the face, neck and shoulders. The discomfort from jaw problems can also cause headaches, sinus pressure and earaches. Fortunately, there are ways for health care workers to help patients with jaw problems so that they have less pain and can have a normal life.
What Type of Problem Is Occurring in the Jaw?
First, you must determine whether the problem is jaw lock or lockjaw. While they are often conflated, the two terms refer to different ailments. If the patient is having other symptoms, such as convulsions, respiratory difficulties, or a high fever, then they could have tetanus, which is caused by the contamination from bacterial spores. These spores tend to enter a wound, but the condition is preventable with a routine tetanus injection every few years. This is a life-threatening condition that requires emergency medical treatment in a hospital as fast as possible. Lockjaw is another term for this symptom of tetanus.
Is It an Arthritic Condition?
If the patient has an arthritic condition, such as osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis, then they may have problems with the joints of their jaw. While most arthritic conditions primarily affect the weight-bearing joints, it is possible for a patient’s jaw joints to degrade, making it difficult to open and close their mouth. This can lead to serious issues when trying to chew food or talk, creating additional health problems. There are medications available for arthritis, so patients should discuss their jaw problems with a physician. Jaw lock is the proper term for all stiff and locked jaw symptoms apart from tetanus.
Are They Grinding Their Teeth at Night?
When people grind their teeth at night, it can damage the joints of their jaws. A dentist can examine a patient’s teeth to determine if there is damaged dental enamel from the grinding process. If a patient’s teeth are damaged, then they could develop dental malocclusions that can affect the jaw, leading to popping sounds or pain while trying to open and close the mouth. Today, it is possible to have protective plastic splints made for the teeth so that the patient’s teeth aren’t damaged, and this will also alleviate the pressure on the jaw’s joints.
Is There Inflammation in the Jaw’s Joints?
It is possible for the jaw joints to become inflamed, leading to a restriction of the jaw’s movement. Temporomandibular joint dysfunction is a condition that can make it difficult for patients to have normal functions of the jaw. There are a variety of treatments you can prescribe so your patients can overcome this problem, including muscle relaxant medications or surgery to improve the performance of the jaw’s joints. A health care professional can also inject neurotoxins that can numb the muscles around the jaw.
Last, a patient may need cognitive behavioral therapy to stop a bad habit, such as clenching the jaw when they are angry or nervous. Most patients will require a combination of treatments to overcome the problems associated with a locked jaw. By understanding the different types of jaw locking symptoms and treatments, health care professionals will be better able to serve their patients.

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