A fractured (a.k.a. broken) jaw is typically a result of direct trauma to the face. Whether it be from a car accident, bad fall, assault or sports injury, jaw fractures are painful and can lead to serious complications. Those at risk for trauma to the jaw include athletes, both organized and recreational, those in abusive relationships, and those with physical or high-risk jobs. If the risk for jaw fracture is high, these individuals should take preventative measures whenever possible. Injury to the jaw can easily lead to breathing problems, difficulty eating, increased risk for bone infection, chronic temporomandibular joint (TMJ) pain, misaligned teeth and cosmetic disfigurement.
Although symptoms of a jaw fracture a usually obvious, sometimes the fracture is more of a crack, also known as a hairline fracture, and symptoms can be subtle. Signs of a broken jaw include jaw pain worse with biting and chewing, bruising and swelling of the lower face, bleeding from the oral cavity, slipping of the jaw side to side, loose teeth, difficulty opening and closing the jaw entirely. If a fractured jaw does not heal fully or is not treated properly, it can cause significant long-term problems with eating, drinking, speaking, breathing and overall quality of life.
Treatment for a fractured jaw varies depending on the type of fracture, its location on the jawbone and its risk for complications. Minor, or hairline, fractures may only require a liquid/soft food diet, pain medications and monitoring. More serious or displaced fractures often require surgery. Surgery to correct a fractured jaw entails aligning the broken bones to ensure proper functioning of the jaw. For proper and complete healing, the jaw is then wired shut to keep the bones from moving out of place until the bone is fully healed. Healing can take upwards of six to eight weeks for which time, only liquids or pureed foods can be consumed.