Injuries and accidents can instantly change your smile by breaking your jaw. Typically, dental injuries cause both physical and emotional trauma to patients. Treating a broken jaw requires special training that involves experience and understanding how your treatment will affect your long-term appearance and function. Dentists at Washington Dental are skilled in acute treatment, emergency care, and long-term rehabilitation and reconstruction. If you experience a dental emergency, call our Carson practice immediately; we can help you at any time of the day. When your dental health is at stake, we can do everything we can to ensure you are treated immediately.
Defining a Broken Jaw
A fractured jaw is an injury to your jawbone or mandible. It is one of the most prevalent forms of facial fracture.
The mandible is the most prominent and largest bone in the lower part of your face. It connects to your skull at your temporomandibular joints on all sides of the head, in front of the ears. Muscles allow the jaw to open and close, while ligaments hold the bone. When the jawbone comes out of its position in either TMJ, it is called dislocation.
A fractured jaw can affect your ability to breathe, speak, and eat. If left untreated, the jawbone might not recover or heal, impacting its functionality or appearance.
Typically, fractures are due to trauma or direct force on your jawbone. The common causes include the following:
- Traffic-related accidents.
- Sports-related injury.
- Workplace and industrial accidents.
- Falls and trips.
- After a dental or medical procedure.
How to Tell If You Have a Fractured Jaw
Some of the signs of a broken jaw include the following:
- Facial swelling that can make your jaw stiff and painful.
- Bleeding the mouth (which can result in breathing challenges in some patients; blood flow could block airways).
- Tenderness that causes discomfort when speaking or chewing.
- Bruising and numbness in your face.
- Dental-related discomfort like loosened teeth and numbness in your gums.
- You could experience limited capability to move the jaw or inability to move the jaw at all if suffering from a severe jaw fracture.
- Your fractured jaw can also cause abnormalities in your face’s shape. You can notice that the face or jaw has an uneven appearance.
Complications of a Broken Jaw
Some of the complications you can experience include the following:
- Temporary difficulty eating.
- Blockage of airways.
- Breathing food or blood into the lungs.
- Infection of the face or jaw.
- Speaking challenges.
- Partial numbness of the face or jaw.
- Jaw joint (TMJ) pain and other difficulties.
- Teeth misalignment.
How to Administer First Aid for Your Broken Jaw
A broken jaw requires immediate medical attention. Call 911 or your local emergency number immediately. You can also seek immediate medical attention if:
- The patient is not breathing, moving, or is unresponsive.
- There is heavy bleeding.
- Even gentle movement or pressure causes pain.
- The joint or limb looks deformed.
- The bone has pierced the patient’s skin.
- You suspect a bone is fractured in the back, neck, or head.
You, the patient, your loved one, or a trained medical practitioner can administer first aid. Here are some first-aid tips:
- Start CPR if the patient is not breathing or responsive.
- If the patient is bleeding from their mouth, request that they spit the blood into a clean piece of cloth.
- Apply ice wrapped in cloth or an ice pack to the injured site.
- Stop bleeding by applying pressure directly on the injured site with a bandage or clean cloth.
- Support the patient’s jaw by tying a cloth around the head and below (sling), holding the jaw in place. Ensure the cloth is not fastened too tight, and pad the splint to reduce discomfort.
- Avoid rectifying the defect or realigning the jaw in any way.
- If the patient experiences nausea, remove their tied cloth to allow them to vomit.
- If any tooth is broken, retrieve it, hold it by its crown, clean it with water or milk, and place it in cold milk or water. Remember to take it to your dentist.
- Immobilize the patient’s head to limit movement.
- If the individual is breathing in short, rapid breaths or feels faint, lay them down with their head lower than the trunk and elevate their legs.
How Broken Jaw is Diagnosed
Your dentist will conduct diagnostic imaging and a physical examination. Typically, blood tests are unnecessary.
The physical exam involves inspecting the face for deformity, swelling, or bruising. Additionally, your physician can examine your TMJ to check whether you have vascular or nerve problems. Next, they will feel your jawbone through your skin.
The dentist will check your jawbone movement. After completing the external examination, they will examine the inside of the mouth. They will ask you to bite down as they look at your teeth alignment.
Your physician will check your jawbone’s stability. Using a straight blade test, the dentist can place a tongue blade between the teeth and analyze whether you can hold the blade.
The most effective screening film is the panoramic X-ray around your jaw. If the initial X-rays do not give concrete results, the doctor can recommend a CT scan if they believe the jaw is fractured.
Treatment for Your Broken Jaw
Treatment of a dislocated or fractured jaw can require an operation, depending on your injury’s severity. Clean breaks can recover on their own, provided the jaw is immobilized. Many jawbone fractures in the area of the bone that is pushed to one side could require surgical repair.
Wiring The Broken Jaw
Dislocated and broken jaws are wired or bandaged shut for a faster recovery.
Serious breaks require wiring to encourage healing. Elastics and wire bands ensure your jaw is shut and control your bite. Always carry a pair of wire cutters or scissors during your recovery. The tools enable you to cut the wires in case of choking or vomiting. If you open some wires, inform your physician for a replacement.
Recovery after a jaw dislocation or fracture needs patience. You might be unable to open the jaw too wide for six weeks after treatment. Your physician will provide antibiotic and painkiller prescriptions to prevent infections. You must also adhere to a fluid diet for your nutritional intake while you heal; chewing solid food can be challenging.
Preventing a Broken Jaw
You can be unable to avoid accidents or scenarios where someone might punch you in the jaw. However, there are necessary steps you can take to lower the risk, including:
- Wearing a helmet while riding a motorcycle, bike, or scooter.
- Buckling your seatbelt while driving or riding in a vehicle.
- Wearing a protective mouth guard and face mask for contact sports.
- Having a protective head guard at your job if your head is at risk of being hit.
Post Operative Instructions After Your Broken Jaw Surgery
Carefully following these health recommendations can reduce complications, making your recovery more effortless and increasing the treatment’s success rate. After surgery, elastics help hold your jaws together.
Some of the essential supplies you need as you recuperate at home are as follows:
- A child-sized toothbrush or Waterpik.
- Lip balm or Vaseline.
- Scissors or a pocket knife for cutting elastics holding your jaws together.
- Food processor or blender.
Prescriptions for Medications
Where necessary, your dentist will prescribe medication during your discharge. Please take the medicine as instructed. You could be discharged with a doctor’s prescription for pain medication in liquid form, taken using a syringe, or sipped with a spoon. If the pain medication is a pill, you can crush it into powder and mix it with 10 to 20 ml of juice or water before administering it to your body with a syringe.
You could also receive liquid antibiotics for infection prevention or an antibiotic mouthwash prescription. It is vital to maintain a clean mouth.
Experiencing more pain and swelling following the post-surgery week may indicate an infection, necessitating immediate medical attention.
Taking Care of Your Treatment Site
You should expect the following symptoms after undergoing broken jaw surgery.
You may suffer from a sore throat or slight nasal congestion during the first few days after surgery. It is common after anesthesia and will disappear within a few days. Drinking lots of liquids helps the throat remain moist.
b) You Can Experience Bleeding
Excessive bleeding in nosebleeds or incision sites after a hospital discharge is unusual, and you should consult your physician immediately.
c) Maintaining Your Oral Health
Proper mouth care is vital for avoiding infections around surgical incisions. However, brushing your teeth could be difficult due to the swelling on your cheeks.
You can brush the outer part of your teeth the next day after the operation using a soft-bristled brush.
Be cautious when brushing your teeth to avoid touching the gums because of incision wounds. Maintain the braces as clean as you can. Your dentist can recommend elastics between your lower and upper jaws to support your lower jaw and control your bite. In this case, you should not worry about your inability to brush your teeth's inner surface.
Also, perform frequent saline rinses. Mix one or two teaspoons of salt daily in a cup of water, and rinse your mouth with the solution every two hours, after meals and before bedtime. Remember to rinse your incision sites using the syringe your dentist gave you while leaving the healthcare facility.
You cannot perform enough rinses. Rinsing promotes your mouth's proper hygiene and assists in shrinking the incision marks.
Your dentist can also prescribe Peridex or chlorhexidine, bacterial-eliminating mouthwashes. Use the mouthwash as instructed on the bottle. Mouthwash takes care of your oral health even when you have surgical stitches or elastics between the teeth.
You can start using a water pik seven days following your surgery. Using a water pik earlier can affect the recovery of your surgical incision and result in more bleeding.
Occasionally, you might experience bleeding when cleaning your mouth. It is normal during the initial two weeks. Once you have cleaned the teeth, the bleeding will stop within a few minutes.
d) Taking Care of Your Lips
Keeping your lips moist will be difficult while your jaws are held close with elastics. You can develop cracks at the corners of your mouth following surgery. Apply lip balm or Vaseline frequently to keep these skin areas from getting too chapped or dry.
e) Your Diet
You need a balanced liquid diet since elastics hold your jaws closed. Your body must receive enough fluids with nutritional value to promote healthy well-being, encourage healing, and reduce the risk of infections.
Your diet should include fluid meals, provided your jaw is tightly closed. At this time, you will have to adapt by exploring a variety of meal choices. Drink adequate liquid quantities—at least four liters daily. You can buy nutritional supplements in watery forms like Boost or Ensure at a local grocery store. You can still feed through a straw or syringe or drink from a glass.
After six weeks, you can gradually resume your usual diet. Some of the soft foods your diet can include are pasta, eggs, fish, and potatoes.
Here are some tips on creating your personalized menu:
- You can eat anything that can be thinned into fluid form. Ensure that you blend your meals until smooth. If the food is too lumpy, pass it through a strainer.
- Warm milk helps thin eggs, pasta, muffins, hot cereal, hot main meals, and casseroles.
- Cold whole milk is great for thinning yogurt, puddings, sandwiches, cereal, ice cream, and cakes.
- Thin yogurt, ice cream, and fruits using fruit juice.
Losing weight is a normal outcome when on a fluid diet. If you experience weight loss, attempt snacking during meal intervals and add cheese made from whole milk or powdered whole milk to your diet to increase your calorie intake. Constipation can occur due to the low fiber nutrients in your liquid diets or as an after-effect of the pain relievers. Consider including plenty of vegetables and fruits and introducing juice to combat constipation.
Avoid drinking alcohol and smoking until your surgical wound recovers. It can hinder your wound’s healing process and increase the risk of infection.
f) Muscle Spasm and Mobilization
Sometimes, elastics can break during tooth fixation. Provided you cannot open your mouth significantly, this is not an issue, and your dentist will replace the elastics during your post-operative visit.
Stay calm if most elastics are lost, and you can open your mouth. Instead, consult your dentist so that they can replace them.
g) How to Handle Choking
Sometimes, you might experience breathing challenges or choking. Always carry a pocket knife or scissors if your teeth are wired together.
Occasionally, you should remove the elastics before contacting your dentist. Your healthcare provider should guide you on how to cut the elastics in case of an emergency.
h) Handling Nausea
You should avoid alcohol and foods that can upset your stomach. Use over-the-counter nausea medications as directed on the bottle if you experience nausea.
Typically, vomiting does not necessitate elastic removal; your stomach contents are liquid and escape around and through your teeth.
i) Plastic Splint
A plastic splint helps balance the bite and train the muscles to function in your new jaw position. You should always put it on except when eating for the initial two weeks following your surgical procedure.
Your dentist should show you how to remove and replace it before leaving the medical facility. The plastic splint has indentations that fit your teeth on the bottom and top, making it work only one way.
You can remove your plastic splint for a few hours during the day, but you should always wear it at night. If you have resumed work, you can leave it at home, provided you are okay without it. If only some teeth touch when you bite, it is wise to continue using your splint since it will stabilize your bite.
You can stop wearing it three weeks later, provided you are comfortable with your bite. However, you should continue wearing the plastic splint if you still have challenges feeling your bite or feel pain when without your splint.
j) Physical Activity
You should keep physical activity to a minimum for eight weeks after treatment to promote recovery. Excessive activities like heavy lifting, climbing stairs, doing house chores, running, and swimming can result in dizziness and bleeding. If you have your upper jaw broken, you should avoid bending.
k) Handling Swelling
Swelling after broken jaw treatment is normal and can last up to three weeks. However, it depends on the individual. Your dentist should prescribe medication to minimize swelling before discharging you.
Some patients experience persistent swelling due to new bone formation around the surgical incisions. It can feel hard and painful and can last up to three months.
To reduce swelling:
- Place an ice pack regularly on the incision sites during the first week after treatment.
- You should constantly wear your compression bandage for one week following surgery.
- Use moist heat over your surgical areas for a week after surgery.
- You can also use a hot water bottle, wet face cloth, or heating pad to decrease the swelling and bruising.
Ensure that you sleep on two pillows for a week after your treatment. It will keep the head elevated and limit the fluid quantity in the swelling. Lying prostrate at night can increase the swelling; instead, consider assuming an upright posture.
Opening Your Jaw
Considering surgery on the jaw can cause soreness in your bones and muscles, you may have difficulty with your jaw movement. Avoid exercising for ten days after the procedure.
Attempting jaw movement from one side to another and slightly opening with your elastics taken off when eating can increase your jaw function.
How to Open Your Jaw after 10 Days to Four (4) Weeks Following the Treatment
Position yourself before a mirror and try opening and closing your jaw multiple times. In week four of your recovery, slide two (2) fingers into the middle of your mouth. Be cautious not to apply extra pressure with your fingers on the teeth as you open your jaw.
Open and close your jaw, then shift it from side to side and front to back to increase your opening with the jaw muscles. Apply moist heat to your face at the sides when performing these exercises to make the process effective and comfortable.
How to Open Your Jaw After the Fourth to Eighth Week Following the Treatment
By the fourth week, you should comfortably place two fingers between your jaw and the front teeth. Getting three fingers in should be seamless by the eighth week.
During week four of your healing process, you could start using slight finger pressure on your front teeth on every side to aid in mildly stretching the jaw muscles to enlarge your opening. Your physician should tell you whether the jaw opening is far from the usual range for this time interval.
How a Dislocated Jaw Differs from a Broken Jaw
Pain in your face and jaw could also result from a dislocated jaw. Typically, a dislocated jaw happens when it moves out of its position at least one of your temporomandibular joints. It can be hard to tell the difference between a discolored and fractured jaw without the assistance of a dentist.
Some of the ways to tell if you have a dislocated jaw include the following:
- Pain in your jaw or face that worsens with movement.
- Speech difficulty.
- Bites that feel crooked or ‘off’.
- Drooling resulting from the inability to close your mouth.
- Locked or protruding forward jaw.
- Teeth misalignment.
To treat your dislocated jaw, your dentist will manually reposition your jaw back into place with their hands. It is referred to as a manual reduction. Later, the dentist can use a supportive bandage to limit movement for a few days while your injury site recovers.
Find an Experienced Emergency Dentist Near Me
Like most dental emergencies, a broken jaw can be scary and does not occur at the right time. It can be painful, and you could feel like something is wrong but are unsure whether to seek medical attention or what to do. Washington Dental can offer the emergency services you require if you ever find yourself in a situation like this. We can offer specialized broken jaw treatment and care tailored to lessen your pain and improve your quality of life. Our Carson-dedicated dental team can diagnose your condition and develop an individualized treatment plan that addresses your needs and appearance.
Take the initial steps towards a pain-free future and regain your beautiful smile by calling us at 310-217-1507.