Broken Jaw: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment, and Prevention

Understanding Broken Jaw: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Summary

A broken jaw, also known as a mandibular fracture, is a serious injury resulting from trauma or injury to the jaw. It can affect a person’s eating, speaking, and breathing ability. This comprehensive guide will provide an overview of a broken jaw, its causes, symptoms, and treatments. We will also discuss how to prevent this injury and live with it.

Article Index

Overview

The jaw, also known as the mandible, is one of the most important bones in the face. It plays a crucial role in chewing, speaking, and breathing. A broken jaw is a serious injury that can affect a person’s ability to perform these functions. It is caused by trauma or injury to the jawbone and can occur in different ways, including:

 

  • Direct blow to the jaw

  • Falling on the face

  • Motor vehicle accidents

  • Sports injuries

  • Physical assaults

What are the types of broken jaw?

There are several types of broken jaw or jaw fractures, which are classified based on the location and severity of the fracture. The following are the common types of jaw fractures:

  1. Condylar fractures occur at the joint that connects the jawbone to the skull and can affect the movement of the jaw.

  2. Coronoid fractures occur in the bony projection of the jawbone and can cause difficulty in opening the mouth.

  3. Body fractures occur in the middle part of the jawbone and can cause misalignment of the teeth.

  4. Angle fractures occur at the corner of the jawbone and can cause pain and swelling in the jaw.

  5. Alveolar fractures occur in the tooth-bearing part of the jawbone and can cause damage to the teeth.

The severity of the fracture can also be classified into two categories: closed fracture and open fracture. In a closed fracture, the skin over the broken bone remains intact, while in an open fracture, the bone breaks through the skin, causing an open wound. An open fracture is more severe and requires immediate medical attention to prevent infection.

Signs, Symptoms, and Causes

What are the signs and symptoms of a broken jaw?

The signs and symptoms of a broken jaw may include:

  • Pain and tenderness in the jaw

  • Swelling and bruising around the jaw area

  • Difficulty opening the mouth

  • Displaced or loose teeth

  • Numbness in the lower lip or chin

  • Misalignment of the teeth

  • Difficulty speaking or eating

  • Bleeding from the mouth

What are the causes of a broken jaw?

The causes of a broken jaw can vary, but they are often related to trauma or injury to the face. Some of the common causes of a broken jaw are:

  • Direct blow to the jaw, which can occur during contact sports or physical assaults

  • Motor vehicle accidents, which can cause facial injuries

  • Falls, especially those that involve landing on the face

  • Industrial accidents that involve heavy machinery

What are the risk factors for a broken jaw?

Several risk factors can increase the likelihood of a broken jaw. These include:

  1. Trauma or injury to the face: Any forceful impact, such as a car accident, a physical altercation, or a sports injury, can result in a broken jaw.

  2. Weakened bones: Conditions that weaken the bones, such as osteoporosis, can increase the risk of a broken jaw.

  3. Dental problems: Poor dental health, such as untreated tooth decay or gum disease, can weaken the jawbone and increase the fracture risk.

  4. Age: Older adults have a higher risk of jaw fractures due to age-related bone density and strength changes.

  5. Gender: Men are likelier than women to experience a broken jaw due to higher participation in contact sports and physical altercations.

  6. Certain medical conditions: Certain medical conditions, such as cancer or Paget’s disease, can weaken the bones and increase the risk of fractures.

  7. Certain medications: Long-term use, such as corticosteroids or anticonvulsants, can weaken the bones and increase the risk of fractures.

It is important to take precautions to prevent injury, such as wearing appropriate protective gear during contact sports, using seat belts and airbags while driving, and maintaining good dental health.

Diagnosis and Tests

How is a broken jaw diagnosed?

If you suspect that you have a broken jaw, you should seek medical attention immediately. Your doctor will perform a physical exam and may order imaging tests such as X-rays or CT scans to determine the extent of the injury. They may also check your teeth and gums to ensure they are not damaged.

Management and Treatment

How are broken jaws managed or treated?

Treatment for a broken jaw depends on the severity and type of fracture. In most cases, the jaw is wired shut to immobilize the broken bone and allow it to heal. During healing, you may need to follow a liquid or soft food diet and avoid activities that can pressure the jawbone. Pain medication and antibiotics may also be prescribed.

 

In severe cases, surgery may be required to reposition the broken bone. This may involve metal plates or screws to stabilize the jaw. In addition, you may need to undergo physical therapy to restore jaw function.

Prevention

How can I prevent a broken jaw?

There are several steps you can take to prevent a broken jaw, including:

  • Wearing protective gear, such as a helmet or mouthguard, when participating in contact sports

  • Using seat belts and child safety seats in motor vehicles

  • Avoiding risky behavior, such as physical altercations or dangerous stunts

  • Maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle to reduce the risk of falls

Outlook – Prognosis

What are the complications of a broken jaw?

Complications of a broken jaw can vary depending on the severity and location of the fracture. Some of the potential complications include:

  1. Difficulty breathing or swallowing: A severe fracture or misalignment of the jaw can lead to difficulty breathing or swallowing.

  2. Dental problems: A broken jaw can cause damage to the teeth, including loosening or loss of teeth.

  3. Malocclusion: Misalignment of the jaw can cause malocclusion, a misalignment of the teeth that can affect speech, chewing, and appearance.

  4. Infection: An open fracture, where the bone has broken through the skin, can increase the risk of infection.

  5. Nerve damage: A broken jaw can cause damage to the nerves that control sensation and movement in the face, resulting in numbness or weakness.

  6. TMJ disorder: A fracture of the temporomandibular joint (TMJ), which connects the jawbone to the skull, can lead to TMJ disorder, causing pain, clicking or popping sounds, and difficulty opening or closing the mouth.

  7. Chronic pain: Some people may experience chronic pain in the jaw, face, or neck after a broken jaw.

It is important to seek medical attention if you suspect you have a broken jaw to prevent complications and ensure proper treatment.

What is the outlook for people with a broken jaw?

The outlook for people with a broken jaw depends on the fracture’s severity and the treatment’s promptness and effectiveness. Most people with a broken jaw can expect a full recovery with proper treatment.

 

Minor fractures that are not displaced may heal independently with pain medication and a soft or liquid diet. More severe or displaced fractures may require surgery to realign the bones and hold them in place with wires, screws, or plates. Recovery after surgery may take several weeks, during which the jaw may be wired shut or require other immobilization.

 

After the bones have healed, physical therapy or jaw exercises may be recommended to help restore normal jaw function and reduce the risk of long-term complications such as malocclusion or chronic pain.

 

It is important to follow the doctor’s instructions for post-treatment care, such as avoiding hard or chewy foods and maintaining good dental hygiene, to ensure proper healing and minimize the risk of complications.

The prognosis for a broken jaw is good, with proper treatment and follow-up care.

Living With

When should I call a doctor?

You should call a doctor immediately if you suspect that you have a broken jaw. Signs and symptoms of a broken jaw may include:

  1. Pain or tenderness in the jaw or mouth

  2. Difficulty opening or closing the mouth

  3. Jaw stiffness or limited movement

  4. Swelling or bruising around the jaw or face

  5. Misaligned teeth or bite

  6. Bleeding from the mouth

  7. Numbness or tingling in the chin or lower lip

  8. Difficulty speaking, eating, or breathing

If you have experienced trauma to the head or face, such as a fall, sports injury, or car accident, it is important to seek medical attention immediately, even if you do not have any obvious signs or symptoms of a broken jaw. Other serious injuries, such as a concussion or brain injury, may sometimes accompany a broken jaw.

Prompt medical evaluation and treatment can help prevent complications and improve the chances of a successful recovery. If you cannot see your regular doctor or dentist, you can visit an emergency room or urgent care center for evaluation and treatment.

What questions should I ask?

If you suspect you have a broken jaw, seeing a doctor as soon as possible is important. Here are some questions you may want to ask during your medical evaluation:

  1. What tests or procedures will be needed to diagnose my condition?

  2. What is the severity of my injury, and what are the treatment options?

  3. Will I need surgery, and if so, what does the procedure entail?

  4. How long will it take for my jaw to heal, and what can I do to help speed up the healing process?

  5. What kind of pain relief options are available to me?

  6. Can I eat or drink normally with a broken jaw, or will I need a special diet?

  7. What kind of follow-up care or appointments will I need?

  8. Are there any long-term complications or risks associated with a broken jaw?

  9. When can I return to normal activities like work, school, or exercise?

  10. What steps can I take to prevent another injury to my jaw? 

It is important to ask any questions that you may have about your condition or treatment so that you can fully understand your diagnosis and make informed decisions about your care.

Medically Reviewed By

Dr. Ebad Habeeb

References and Resources

Mayo Clinic – Broken Jaw: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/broken-jaw/symptoms-causes/syc-20351382

MedlinePlus – Jaw Injuries and Disorders: https://medlineplus.gov/jawinjuriesanddisorders.html

American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons – Jaw Fractures: https://www.aaoms.org/docs/media/jaw_fractures/03_jaw_fractures.pdf

National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research – Jaw Surgery: https://www.nidcr.nih.gov/health-info/jaw-surgery

WebMD – Broken Jaw: https://www.webmd.com/oral-health/guide/broken-jaw-causes-symptoms-treatments

Healthline – Broken Jaw: https://www.healthline.com/health/broken-jaw

eMedicineHealth – Broken Jaw: https://www.emedicinehealth.com/broken_jaw/article_em.htm

Merck Manual – Jaw and Facial Fractures: https://www.merckmanuals.com/home/injuries-and-poisoning/facial-injuries/jaw-and-facial-fractures

Cleveland Clinic – Fractured Jaw: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/12090-fractured-jaw

Johns Hopkins Medicine – Jaw Fractures: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/jaw-fractures

Wikipedia – Mandibular Fracture: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mandibular_fracture