Broken Jaw Overview
A broken jaw (or mandibular fracture) is a common facial injury. Only the nose is broken more frequently. A broken jaw is the tenth most common fractured bone in the human body. Fractures (these are breaks in the bone) are generally the result of a direct force or trauma to the jawbone.
- The jawbone, or mandible, is the largest and main bone of the lower part of the face. The chief areas of the mandible bone are the body (chin out to the jaw angle) and the 2 upward branches, called the rami.
- Men are about 3 times more likely than women to sustain a broken jaw. Those aged 20-29 years are the most common group affected.
Broken Jaw Causes
- Motor vehicle accidents
- Sports-related injuries
Broken Jaw Symptoms
- The most common symptom is jaw pain.
- You may feel that your teeth do not fit together correctly (this is called a malocclusion). You may be unable to open your jaw all the way, have problems speaking, or notice swelling of the jaw.
- Your chin or lower lip may be numb because of damage to a nerve that runs through the mandible.
- Inside the mouth, you may see bleeding or find a change in the normal lineup of teeth. There might also be bruising under the tongue or even a cut in the ear canal due to movement backward of the broken jawbone.
When to Seek Medical Care
Call your doctor if you feel that your teeth don't fit together correctly, if you have bleeding within the mouth, problems speaking, or swelling.
This injury is best evaluated at a hospital. Therefore, your doctor may advise you to go to an emergency department.
A potential but serious consequence of jaw fractures is a problem breathing due to loss of support to the tongue. Therefore, any signs of breathing problems need to be addressed immediately by calling 911.
Otherwise, most jaw injuries are best managed by going to the emergency department by personal vehicle. Remember, if you are the one who is injured, you should not be driving.
Exams and Tests
A doctor will conduct a physical exam and order x-rays, if indicated. No blood tests are needed.
- The physical examination would consist of a general inspection of your face for obvious deformity, bruising, or swelling. The next step would begin with feeling the jawbone through the skin.
- The doctor will check the movement of the mandible. Once the external exam is complete, the doctor will check inside your mouth. You will be asked to bite down, and your teeth will be assessed for alignment.
- The doctor will check the jawbone for stability. With the straight blade test, the doctor may place a tongue blade (tongue depressor, a flat wooden stick) between your teeth and evaluate whether you can hold the blade in place.
- The best screening film is the panoramic x-ray, completely around the jaw. This type of x-ray is not often available in smaller hospitals, so other views are substituted. If the initial x-rays are negative, a CT scan may be indicated if the doctor thinks you have a broken jaw.