Mandible fractures, more commonly referred to as broken jaws, are more common than you may realize. In fact, the only facial injury more common than a broken jaw is a broken nose. Unsurprisingly, males from 20 to 30 years of age are most commonly affected by jaw fractures. According to recent statistics, males are three times more likely to suffer a jaw fracture than females, and a significant number of patients who suffer a jaw fracture will also have suffered other facial injuries.1
The most common symptoms of a broken jaw include:
- Jaw pain
- The feeling that your teeth do not fit together
- Being unable to open your jaw all the way
- Problems speaking
- Swelling of the jaw
- Numbness in the lower lip or chin
- Bleeding inside the mouth
- Bruising under the tongue
Although jaw injuries are best diagnosed by a doctor at a hospital or an oral and maxillofacial medical professional, they are generally not life threatening. There are however situations where the jaw fracture could significantly interfere with breathing. The jaw provides integral support for the tongue to ensure unobstructed breathing. Should this support be compromised potentially fatal complications could occur. If you or someone you know has suffered a blow to the jaw and exhibits signs of struggling to breath, it’s essential to call 911 immediately.
Most jaw fractures are stable, and the standard treatment is wiring the jaw together. Wiring, or maxillomandibular fixation, is a surgical procedure performed by specialized oral and maxillofacial dental surgeons such as those at Greater Louisville Oral & Maxillofacial.
Ideally your surgeon will want to set the jaw as soon as possible following the accident. Once your face and jaw area begin to swell it will be more difficult for the oral surgeon to set your jaw properly. If swelling is already severe, it may be necessary to wait, potentially weeks, for swelling to subside before the jaw can be set.
Once the jaw has been set, small incisions are made in the tissue surrounding the jaw in order for the surgeon to anchor pins in the jaw bone and thread wire through the pins to hold the jaw in place.2
There are a variety of potential surgical options that may be required if the jaw fracture is “unstable.” Implantation of a plate to stabilize the fracture may be necessary. Although that’s much more invasive than wiring, some of these patients actually get back to solid foods faster than those with stable fractures.3
Surviving the Struggle
One woman who went through the wiring process documented her experience in a lengthy Q&A on her blog. As with most medical issues, such as jaw fractures or recovering from jaw surgery, every patient’s situation is going to be somewhat unique, but here are some points about her recovery process that may be indicative of what to expect.4
- Her surgeons estimated the surgery would take about four and a half hours but it actually took seven.
- She stayed in the hospital for three days recovering before being discharged.
- Although she wasn’t able to speak clearly she could still communicate by mumbling.
- She wasn’t able to eat for three days following the wiring. On day four she ate some soup and juice delivered through a syringe.
- After a few weeks she was able to start eating soft foods. She used baby spoons to shovel things like scrambled eggs, mashed potatoes and ice cream in the small space between her upper and lower teeth.
- It took about two months for her jaw to fully heal.
- The surgeon gave her a special type of mouthwash to rinse with instead of brushing. She was able to gently brush the front of her teeth once her jaw was healed enough.
- She also used a Corsodyl mouthwash to help treat ulcers, which can develop due to the irritation caused by the pins and wires.
If you want to learn more about jaw surgery and ways to cope with the recovery process, contact the local experts at Greater Louisville Oral & Maxillofacial. Proper jaw position and function are essential not only to your quality of life but also your aesthetic appearance, so it’s important to consult with highly skilled professionals whenever you’re dealing with a potential jaw fracture.
If you or a loved one think you may have a fractured jaw, contact our office for immediate assistance.