Lock Jaw Causes, Symptoms, And Treatments To Try

BY Dr. McDowell  |  May 7th, 2024
Dr. McDowell
Dr. McDowell has always been focused on using the latest technology to improve the patient experience. From radiation-free imaging to laser dentistry, he has always been ahead of the curve and is dedicated to improving the practice of dentistry one ..

Lockjaw, medically known as trismus, is a condition that can send a shiver down anyone’s spine. Its name alone conjures images of jaws clenching shut, rendering speech difficult and eating nearly impossible. But what exactly is lockjaw? What causes it, and can it be treated or even cured?

In this guide, we’ll delve into:

Understanding Lockjaw: What is it?

lock jaw

Lockjaw is a condition characterized by involuntary muscle spasms in the jaw, causing it to remain tightly closed or difficult to open fully. The medical term for lockjaw is trismus, which derives from the Greek word “trismos,” meaning a spasm or cramp. While lockjaw is most commonly associated with tetanus infection, it can also be caused by various other factors, which we’ll explore in detail shortly.

Recognizing the Symptoms of Lockjaw

Lockjaw, or trismus, manifests through various symptoms that can significantly impact daily life. Recognizing these signs early on is crucial for prompt diagnosis and treatment. Common symptoms of lockjaw include:

If you experience any of these symptoms, especially if they persist or worsen over time, it is essential to seek medical attention promptly. Early intervention can help prevent complications and improve the likelihood of successful treatment outcomes.

5 Causes of Lockjaw

Lockjaw can happen for a variety of reasons, including:

1. Tetanus Infection:

Tetanus, a bacterial infection caused by Clostridium tetani, is one of the most well-known causes of lockjaw. The bacteria typically enter the body through a wound or cut and release toxins that affect the nervous system, leading to muscle stiffness and spasms, including those in the jaw muscles.

2. Dental Issues:

Dental problems such as temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders, tooth abscesses, or dental surgeries can also trigger lockjaw. Inflammation or injury to the muscles or ligaments around the jaw joint can result in spasms and restricted movement.

3. Trauma:

Trauma to the jaw or face, whether from accidents, sports injuries, or surgical procedures, can cause muscle damage and inflammation, leading to lockjaw.

4. Radiation Therapy:

Patients undergoing radiation therapy for head and neck cancers may experience trismus as a side effect. Radiation can damage the muscles and tissues in the treated area, leading to reduced jaw mobility.

5. Infections:

Other infections besides tetanus, such as mumps or certain viral infections affecting the jaw muscles, can result in lockjaw.

Treatments for Lockjaw

Lock jaw can feel hopeless, but there a wide range of treatment options that can keep you feeling comfortable and healthy.


In cases of tetanus infection, treatment typically involves administering antibiotics to eradicate the bacteria and antitoxins to neutralize the toxins produced by the bacteria. Muscle relaxants or antispasmodic medications may also be prescribed to alleviate muscle spasms and reduce jaw stiffness.

Physical Therapy:

Physical therapy techniques, including jaw exercises, stretching exercises, and massage, can help improve jaw mobility and alleviate muscle tightness. These exercises aim to gradually increase the range of motion in the jaw joint and strengthen the surrounding muscles.

Heat and Cold Therapy:

Applying heat or cold packs to the affected area can provide relief from muscle tension and inflammation. Heat helps relax tight muscles, while cold therapy can numb the area and reduce pain and swelling.

Splint Therapy:

For patients with TMJ disorders or muscle spasms related to dental issues, a dentist may recommend using a splint or oral appliance to help stabilize the jaw joint and alleviate symptoms. These custom-made devices can help reposition the jaw, reduce muscle strain, and prevent further damage.

Botox Injections:

In some cases, Botox injections may be used to temporarily paralyze the muscles responsible for the jaw spasms. By blocking the nerve signals that trigger muscle contractions, Botox can help relax the jaw muscles and improve jaw function.

Is There a Permanent Cure for Lockjaw?

The outlook for lockjaw depends on the underlying cause and the effectiveness of treatment. In cases of tetanus infection, prompt medical intervention with antibiotics and antitoxins can be lifesaving and may lead to a full recovery. However, if left untreated, tetanus can be fatal.

For other causes of lockjaw, such as dental issues or trauma, the prognosis varies depending on the severity of the condition and the individual’s response to treatment. In many cases, with appropriate medical care and rehabilitation, symptoms of lockjaw can improve over time, and normal jaw function can be restored.

How Your Dentist Can Help with Lockjaw

talking to dentist

Dentists play a crucial role in the management of lockjaw, particularly when it is related to dental issues or TMJ disorders. Here are some ways your dentist can help:

Lockjaw Solutions for Your Life

Lockjaw, while often associated with tetanus infection, can have various causes, including dental issues, trauma, and radiation therapy. However, with prompt medical intervention and appropriate treatment, many cases of lockjaw can be effectively managed, and normal jaw function can be restored.

Dentists play a vital role in the diagnosis and treatment of lockjaw, offering a range of interventions, including medication, physical therapy, oral appliances, and referral to specialists when needed. By working closely with your dentist and following a comprehensive treatment plan, you can overcome the challenges posed by lockjaw and regain control of your oral health and quality of life.

Contact Wayzata Dental to learn about potential solutions for you and your locked jaw.

Dr. McDowell
Dr. McDowell has always been focused on using the latest technology to improve the patient experience. From radiation-free imaging to laser dentistry, he has always been ahead of the curve and is dedicated to improving the practice of dentistry one ..