Lockjaw or any type of temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder can cause severe pain, anxiety, and further health problems. Seeking immediate lockjaw treatment should be a priority and the condition taken seriously if symptoms are appearing. Although TMJ and lockjaw are used interchangeably by many people, these two conditions are actually quite different. While millions suffer from some form of TMJ disorder, true lockjaw is much rarer. Before discussing treatments, it is crucial to understand the difference between the two.
What is Lockjaw?
The condition that brings about true lockjaw is called tetanus and it is caused by a bacterial strain Clostridium tetani. This bacterium usually enters the body through a cut or puncture wound. Once infected, the symptoms are well defined. The initial stages produce muscle spasms that start in the jaw and neck area. The jaw becomes rigid and increasingly hard to move. Facial muscles may be drawn into a “grin”. The neck and back muscles may experience tautness, spasms, and painful arching of the back. The sufferer may have a fever, begin to drool and sweat profusely. If left untreated, this condition can cause death.
Unlike lockjaw, any TMJ disorder starts not with a bacterial infection but with a problem around the jawbone’s joint with the skull. When the jaw slips from its socket due to a misalignment, injury, or muscular problem, this subluxation can create a condition similar to lockjaw. More commonly, the TMJ is just overworked and may cause popping when chewing or a clicking noise in the ear. Any one of the common TMJ problems are far easier to treat and less painful than true lockjaw.
The severity of the condition will determine the treatment for true lockjaw. A mild case will be tackled with an antibiotic like metronidazole. An antibody tetanus immunoglobulin will usually be administered as well. A muscle relaxer to help control the spasms is commonly given and valium (diazepam) is usually chosen. A severe case will include the above, but will also require more invasive and serious treatments. A ventilator must be used as breathing becomes severely compromised. Eating is impossible so a high caloric diet must be administered through a tube. Along with the diazepam for spasms, magnesium may also be infused. A severe case can take the patient over a month to recover.
TMJ Treatment Options
Fortunately, dealing with a TMJ problem is far less painful in almost every instance. There are many ways to combat this problem. TMJ treatments at home can include wearing a mouth guard to prevent bruxism (or grinding of the teeth). This guard also keeps the jaw aligned properly and will help prevent subluxation. Exercising the jaw with a prescribed routine will strengthen the muscles and may eliminate many future problems. Most dentists will advise a sufferer to avoid gum chewing or eating tough foods like steak. These can overwork the jaw and increase the likelihood of a TMJ disorder. In the unlikely occurrence of an actual dislocation, the jaw may be impossible to move and mimic true lockjaw. Immediate medical attention should be sought.
TMJ can be due to both the environment and even genetics, but it is highly treatable. True lockjaw is rare because in most countries there are vaccines available that cut the tetanus risks to very low figures. In most cases, what people believe to be lockjaw is due to a TMJ problem. The key to treating any condition of the jaw (especially lockjaw and TMJ) is to first make sure it is understood what the problem actually is before a treatment plan can be considered.