Lockjaw vs. Jaw Lock: Are They The Same Thing?

Lockjaw & jaw lock are two very similar terms that could mean two very different things. While both insinuate the jaw becoming stuck, or ‘locked,’ & both can have similar symptoms, only one is actually related to dentistry.


Many times dental patients will describe the sensation of a stuck jaw as lockjaw. This isn’t entirely accurate. Technically, the term lockjaw refers to symptoms associated with the bacterial infection called tetanus. Tetanus is usually contracted from a wound caused by a rusty piece of metal, while the bacteria itself thrives in soil, dust, & manure. When someone gets tetanus, muscle spasms are a common side effect. These spasms can affect the muscles in the face & jaw, causing the joint to tighten & allowing the person to feel as if the jaw is, in fact, locked. Tetanus is a very serious infection & can result in death if not treated. Although less prevalent nowadays thanks to vaccines, tetanus is still possible so make sure to seek medical attention if you’re experiencing symptoms of a tight or locked jaw.

Jaw Lock

Jaw lock is the term used to describe a locked jaw caused by the temporomandibular joint, also commonly referred to as the TMJ. Although still painful, scary, & serious, jaw lock won’t lead to death, but should still be evaluated & treated by a dentist.

Patients with jaw lock typically can’t predict when their jaw will become stuck, either opened or closed, & most of the time there’s a lot of pain when trying to move it. There are several explanations to how & why this happens. It could be related to a bad bite (malocclusion), causing the jaw & facial muscles to become inflamed & function improperly, or it may be a result of an injury to the cartilage in the jaw joint, sometimes caused by grinding or clenching.

Signs of a Problem

Signs of a TMJ issue can vary from person to person, & not everyone experiences the locked jaw sensation. Some of the most common symptoms include:

  • Earaches or headaches
  • Popping or clicking when opening & closing your mouth
  • Pain associated with yawning, chewing, or opening your mouth wide
  • Change in the way your teeth fit together when teeth touch teeth

If you’re experiencing signs of a jaw problem, call our Cherry Hill, Gibbsboro, Haddon Heights, Linwood dental offices to schedule an appointment. We’ll review your symptoms & discuss the best treatment to help relieve the pain & annoyance of a locked jaw.

Call us today with any questions or to book your appointment!


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