Tele Oral Medicine

Jaw Locking

Locked jaw can be quite frightening while in action. If you experience a locked jaw you will find it difficult to either open your jaw completely or to close your jaw. The jaw may need to be manipulated back into the correct position. Jaw clicking and locking is often accompanied by pain and generally indicates an underlying temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder.
A locked jaw is associated with intense pain and may be described as achy, throbbing, tender, or severe. These feelings may become worse while chewing or yawning. 

Signs and Symptoms:

The symptoms of jaw locking include:

  • “Stuck” jaw sensation on opening or closing that needs manipulation of the jaw to correct.
  • Pain in the jaw joints or front of the ears when opening or closing.
  • Restricted mouth opening.
  • Pain in the jaw muscles.
  • Jaw stiffness.


Though there are various causes of jaw locking, the most common include:  

Temporomandibular joint disc displacement

This occurs when the TMJ disc displaces resulting in a clicking sound. If the disc displacement progresses, it can lead to a permanent disc displacement resulting in a closed lock jaw. This is typically painful and associated with limited mouth opening making it difficult to chew and speak.  

Temporomandibular joint hypermobility

The TMJ may be hypermobile in children and adolescents. The hypermobility of the TMJs may be so severe that the jaw joint may slip out of the socket resulting in the jaw being stuck open. If this occurs, the jaw joint has to be manipulated back into the socket so the jaw can close again. Occasionally the jaw manipulation needs to be carried out under sedation or general anaesthetic.  


In cases of painful jaw clicking (TMJ disc displacement), it is recommended you visit with an Oral Medicine Specialist before the pain progressively gets worse and/or the jaw starts locking. Usually, the jaw will go through a period of intermittent closed locking episodes before progressing to a permanent closed locked jaw.  

When to see a doctor?

If you have painful jaw clicking and locking that does not go away on its own, make an appointment with a doctor with training and experience in the TMJ dysfunction.   


To consult an Oral Medicine Specialist regarding your jaw locking, ask your doctor or dentist to refer you to TeleOralMedicine. 

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