Jaw Fractures

A broken jaw (or mandible fracture) is a common facial injury. A broken jaw is the tenth most common fractured bone in the human body.

Fractures (breaks in the bone) are generally the result of a direct force or trauma to the jawbone (mandible).A fall on a slippery sidewalk, an automobile crash, a sports injury: Accidents happen. And if an accident results in trauma to your jaw, a fractured mandible (lower jaw) can be the outcome.

Men are about three times more likely than women to sustain a broken jaw. Those aged from about 20-30 years are the most common group affected. About 42% of jawbone fractures occur only on one side of the jaw.

A large percentage of patients with jawbone fractures had associated injuries to one or more of the following: head, neck, face, eyes, and nose.

A mandibular fracture is similar to a bone fracture in any body part. The bone becomes stressed, usually from excessive force, and breaks under that pressure. Jaw fracture symptoms you might experience include:

  • Pain, swelling, redness, and increased heat in the jaw or ear area
  • Difficulties in speaking, chewing, and breathing
  • Numbness or bruising of your face and neck
  • Loose teeth or change in teeth alignment
  • Bleeding from the mouth
  • Drooling and the inability to close the mouth may occur.

Although many patients with a jawbone fracture often have temporary problems of eating (chewing) and talking, these complications usually resolve over time (days to weeks) with no further complications with appropriate treatment.

However, some patients may suffer more immediate complications of airway blocking, bleeding, and aspiration of food, blood, or fluid into the lungs that can be life-threatening.

Some people may develop infections of the jaw or face, malocclusion (misaligned) teeth, or both, especially if the fracture is unstable and treatment is delayed or not appropriate. Poor healing of some fractures may lead to TMJ dislocation. There can be also be instances of nerve paresthesia or complete numbness due to nerve damage during trauma.

Although a jawbone fracture may occur from many pathological causes (for example, cancer, bone loss through infections), the large majority of fractures occur from the following:

  • Motor vehicle accidents
  • Assaults (facial trauma)
  • Sports-related injuries (boxing, football)
  • Falls (face-first falls)
  • The majority of mandibular (jawbone) fractures occur in young adult males (20-30 years of age), with most occurring in the body, condyle, and angle areas of the jawbone.

Because the most common causes of jaw fractures are the result of motor vehicle accidents and assaults, the best prevention is to drive carefully and choose your friends wisely.

A more realistic step that can be taken is wearing protective devices in many types of sporting activities. In addition, those patients who have medical conditions that may lead to falls need to treat those conditions and follow individual recommendations to prevent falls.

Patients with lower bone density due to physiological, endocrinological and pathological causes, are at higher risk of jaw fractures than healthy population.

How is it diagnosed?

After a physical check of your jaw and face, you'll undergo a radiograph to detect jaw fracture(s) resulting from the injury.

Maxillofacial radiologists – doctors who specialize in reading dental radiographs – access the presence and severity of cracks, splits, or complete breaks. Two types of radiographs best identify mandibular fractures:

  • CT Scan: A special type of radiograph called cone-beam computer tomography (CBCT) allows maxillofacial radiologists to assess bone conditions and fractures in three dimensions with 100 percent accuracy. Since you might have more than one fracture, it's important to pinpoint all fractures.
  • X-ray: A lower-price option is a panoramic X-ray that can detect 86 percent of mandibular fractures.
  • Press on areas around your jaw to identify sites of pain or discomfort

If you live in a community without this radiographic equipment, you might undergo a regular CT scan or X-ray initially. But you'll do yourself a favor by making arrangements for a CBCT scan before treatment begins.

Jaw Fractures

How is it treated?

Mandibular fracture treatment depends on the severity, the location, and the number of jaw fractures. Treatments can include:

This requires you to avoid opening your jaw except to consume – but definitely not chew – soft foods and liquids.

This stabilizes your jaw joints as the bones heal. And, yes, a liquid diet will make up your meal plan.

This might involve screwing metal plates into the jawbone. Again, so your jaw remains stable, wiring your mouth closed might be required. And, again, a liquid diet might be on the menu.

Treatment and recovery can require up to four to six weeks for your fracture to heal. During this time, you'll typically receive prescriptions or advice to take:

  • Anti-inflammatory medications to increase your comfort and aid in your healing.
  • Antibiotics to prevent an infection of the bone.
  • To rebuild your jaw muscles and joints' strength, you'll likely need to undergo physical therapy.

Good oral hygiene is crucial during healing, but wires and a limited mouth opening will impair your ability to brush. Your dentist may recommend that you swish with an antibacterial mouth rinse.

If you experience trauma to the jaw, don't hesitate to seek a diagnosis and treatment for a broken mandible – even if you don't experience obvious symptoms. And though you might have to wait up to six weeks before eating solid food again, it'll be something to smile about once your jaw and bite start working properly again.

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