Why does my jaw joint lock so that I cannot get it open all the way?

jaw locking clicking and popping

In previous posts, I discussed the common denominator of TMD (temporomandibular joint disorders) responsible for ALL of the wide and varied symptoms associated with this enigmatic problem.  Inflammation within the jaw joints causes each and every one of these divergent and seemingly unrelated symptoms.

One of the most frequent symptoms of TMD is a condition that most patients report as an inability of open their mouth fully.  In some cases, the inability to open occurs gradually and the patient is not aware that there is any limitation to the amount of opening.  In most cases, the patient is critically aware that there is a problem because, all of a sudden, they cannot open their mouth completely.  Frequently this is associated with acute pain and sometimes a loud “snap” is heard, but most of the time it is just an instantaneous inability to open fully and any attempt to open beyond a certain point will elicit extreme pain.  Sometimes this limitation of opening will clear just as suddenly and it appeared, and sometimes it does not, and it is “permanently” locked with the patient unable to open beyond the half way point.  Some patients are extremely troubled by these events and immediately go to their local hospital’s Emergency Department, or Walk-In Clinic.  Some patients report it to their dentist or primary care physicians. And some patients just ignore the problem and hope it will go away.

But locking of the jaw in this manner is a very bad sign that the TMD (Temporomandibular Joint Disorder) is getting much worse.

So, what is happening inside the jaw joint that is making it lock and keep the patient from opening fully?  The jaw joints, right and left sides, are composed of a ball and socket system with a cushion of cartilage as a spacer between the ball and the socket. As noted, inflammation within the confines of the jaw joint space creates All of the symptoms of TMD.  This inflammation, over a period of time, causes the ligaments and capsule holding the spacer cushion in proper position to become loose.  At first, when it becomes loose it only makes clicking and popping noises within the joint. But over time the cushion becomes so loose that one of the muscles attached to the cushion will pull it forward out of the joint space.  It then tends to curl up into a sort of accordion shaped mass in front of the joint and is an obstruction to the ball when the jaw is opened beyond the half way point.  Sometimes this cushion (cartilage) obstruction will return to its normal position allowing full opening and sometimes it does not return to its normal position within the joint. That is when the patient cannot open fully “permanently”.  I have placed “permanently” in quotation marks because this condition does not have to be permanent if treated in a timely fashion in a non-surgical manner.

For further information on how locking of the jaw can be treated in a non-surgical manner using the patented “Urbanek Device” go to www.drurbanek.com.

Dr. Anthony P. Urbanek is a double degree Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon. Dr. Urbanek received his dental degree from Indiana University and his medical degree from Vanderbilt University. Dr. Urbanek is board certified by the American Board of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery and has served Williamson and Davidson counties for over 30 years. He currently specializes in treating TMJ/TMD with his non-surgical patented TMJ splint and is also a specialist in Dental Implants and Wisdom Teeth Removal . Learn more at www.drurbanek.com