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Jaw Dislocation

by David F. Murchison, DDS, MMS

A dislocated jaw (dislocated mandible) generally is very painful. The mouth cannot be closed, and the jaw may be twisted to one side. A dislocated jaw is typically caused by the following:

  • Opening the mouth excessively wide (such as during yawning, biting into a large sandwich, vomiting, or during a dental procedure)

  • An injury

Dislocation is more likely to occur in people who have had previous dislocations or who have looseness of the jaw (hypermobility), which may result from temporomandibular disorders (see Temporomandibular Disorders).

A doctor or dentist typically maneuvers the jaw back into place by hand (manual reduction).

Putting a Dislocated Jaw Back in Place

After wrapping their fingers with gauze, doctors or dentists place their thumbs inside the mouth on the lower back teeth. They place their other fingers around the bottom of the lower jaw. They press down on the back teeth and push the chin up until the jaw joints return to their normal location.

Once the jaw is back in place, doctors sometimes apply a Barton bandage (see Figure: Barton Bandage) to limit the motion of the jaw to prevent another dislocation while the inflammation in the jaw joint resolves. Also, people are cautioned to avoid opening the mouth wide for at least 6 weeks. When anticipating a yawn, people should place a fist under their chin to prevent it from opening wide. People must cut their food into small pieces. For people who have had more than one dislocation, surgery may be needed to reduce the risk of further dislocations. For instance, the ligaments connecting the jaw to the skull (at the temporomandibular joint—see Temporomandibular Disorders) can be shortened, thereby tightening the joint.

Barton Bandage

A Barton bandage is used to temporarily stabilize the jaw after a fracture or dislocation.

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