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Overview

A broken jawbone, or mandible, is an injury that may occur anywhere along the bone that extends from the chin to behind the ears.

Breaking this bone may result in problems with the way an affected individual eats and breathes and immediate medical attention is necessary for anyone who sustains a fracture/break of this bone in order to accelerate the healing process and reduce the risk of any complications.

Causes  

The main cause of a broken jaw is direct trauma to the face and this can occur through various types of mechanisms including assault of the face with a blunt object, motor vehicle accidents, sports injuries, and through accidents at home or the workplace.

Symptoms and signs

Individuals who sustain a fracture of the jaw may complain of the following issues:

  • Pain over the fracture site.
  • Swelling.
  • Bruising over the jaw or face.
  • Numbness of the skin.
  • Bleeding from an open wound or from the mouth.
  • Increased pain or discomfort when chewing or speaking.
  • Breathing difficulties if there is a lot of bleeding.
  • Possible loose teeth or gum-related complaints.
  • In cases of severe fractures, there may be difficulty in moving the jaw at all.
  • Facial disfigurement.

Treatment of jaw fractures

A jaw fracture is considered a medical emergency and immediate medical attention will be given to the affected individual.

While waiting to consult with a doctor, it's important for the patient to stabilize the jaw by supporting it and to make sure that they are breathing without any issues.

In the case of severe bleeding which may cause breathing difficulties, the patient can lean forward allowing the blood to escape out of the mouth and they can try breathing normally through their nose.

Depending on the severity and extent of the injury, the patient may need surgical management of the jaw fracture. A clean break may heal on its own while the jaw is immobilized, but multiple or displaced (shifted) fractures of the mandible will require surgery.

Clean fractures will be managed by simply wrapping bandaging around the head and under the chin to prevent the patient from opening their mouth wide. Anti-inflammatory medication will be prescribed to help reduce the pain and swelling caused by the fracture.

Severe fractures will be managed by wiring the jaw in order for the shifted or multiple fragments to form a good callus (new bone).

The recovery process entails not being able to open the mouth very wide for up to six weeks for any severity of the fracture. During this time, the patient will be advised to consume a liquid or soft diet as they will be unable to chew on solid foods. Consultation with a dietitian is then also recommended in order to determine the foods that will be eaten and how they should be prepared for optimal intake.

An X-ray will be taken two weeks after the initial injury so that the treating doctor can assess the healing process. Thereafter, the patient will be seen at the six-week mark and the bandaging or wires will be removed if the doctor is satisfied with the way the bone has healed. 

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