A mandibular fracture, or broken jaw, is a painful and serious medical condition that requires immediate medical attention. It often requires extensive care in order to heal properly and maintain optimal quality of life.
What Is a Mandible?
“Mandible” is the medical term for your jaw bone. It is essentially the lower part of the skull, upon which rests your lower set of teeth. Various injuries can befall the mandible, such as a dislocated jaw or mandibular fracture.
What Causes a Broken Jaw?
The two most common causes of mandibular fractures are car accidents and assaults. In severe car accidents, occupants may be launched forward and hit their face against hard surfaces within the vehicle, such as the steering wheel. Seatbelts and airbags go a long way to prevent injuries of this kind, but they aren’t always enough to prevent all harm.
Jaw breaks from assaults come from intentional and hostile attacks to the head and face area, either from punches, kicks, or being struck by an object.
Other causes of jaw fractures are participation in sports, and falls, especially ones where a person lands on their face.
Men are three times more likely to suffer a broken jaw than women are.
Signs of a Broken Jaw
There are several things to watch for if you believe you may have a mandibular fracture.
- Pain and swelling in the jaw.
- The teeth may no longer feel as if they fit together properly.
- Bruising inside or outside the mouth.
- Bleeding inside the mouth.
- Numbness in the chin or lower lip due to damage to a nerve within the mandible.
- Problems speaking or chewing.
- Inability to close the mouth, which may result in drooling.
One very serious complication resulting from this condition is the inability to breathe due to the failure of the broken jaw to support the tongue. If someone with a suspected broken jaw complains of this complication, it is important to call 911 immediately.
A dislocated jaw will likely present itself with many of the above symptoms, however the victim will likely have a pronounced underbite as the jaw juts out.
How Can my Doctor Help?
Your doctor will conduct a physical examination to determine the nature of your injury. There are several tests that the doctor can do to determine whether your jaw is broken or you are suffering from a different injury, such as a dislocated jaw.
The physician will do a physical examination of the face and interior of the mouth to observe any obvious deformities, bruises, or swelling. The doctor may feel your jaw in order to detect abnormal positioning of the jaw bone.
Your doctor will likely ask you to bite down with your teeth visible, in order to check for malocclusion, also known as teeth misalignment. You may be asked to hold a tongue depressor between your teeth in order to assess your jaw stability.
Finally, your doctor will order X-rays to get images of the fracture. Some fractures may not show up on X-rays, however. If your doctor still suspects a mandibular fracture even if they cannot see it on an X-ray, a CT scan may be used to definitively locate the injury.
How Will my Doctor Treat my Broken Jaw?
The first course of relief is pain medication. Jaw fractures are often accompanied by open wounds inside or outside the mouth. Antibiotics and a tetanus shot may be administered as a result.
If the fractured jaw is stable, meaning that the jaw is not out of place, then an oral surgeon will wire the teeth shut so that the jaw can heal. This is also a common treatment for dislocated jaws.
With an unstable fracture, it is far more common for surgery to be needed. Plates may be fastened to the broken parts of the jaw across the fracture in order to hold them together.
Patients suffering from mandibular fractures will likely have to alter their diets to include only liquid or soft foods until the jaw heals sufficiently for them to eat more solid foods. Your doctor may help you with a meal plan to help you get adequate nutrition while you recover.
How Long Will Recovery Take?
The prognosis for mandibular fractures are generally very good. Stable fractures will often heal after 1 or 2 months. Fractures that required surgery may take a few more months in order to fully recover.
Some people who have suffered from a fractured jaw develop long term chronic pain. This is known as temporomandibular joint disorder. It may be treated with pain medication.
You will likely have to follow up with your doctor as recovery progresses. Your doctor will evaluate the condition of your jaw and make recommendations regarding remaining healing time.
Many patients report losing weight due to the dietary changes made necessary by the jaw fracture.