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A fall on a slippery sidewalk, a bicycle or motor vehicle accident, a sports injury: Accidents happen. And if the accident happens to be accompanied by facial trauma involving the only movable bone in the head, called the mandible or jawbone, a mandible fracture may be the result. The good news is a mandibular fracture is a treatable condition.

How Mandibular Fractures Are Diagnosed

A mandible fracture is similar to a bone fracture in any another area of the body. The bone becomes stressed, usually from excessive force, and breaks under that pressure. The first step in the diagnosis is taking a dental X-ray (also known as a radiograph) to measure the presence and severity of the crack, split or complete break.

Symptoms of Mandibular Fractures

A mandibular fracture is often accompanied by the general symptoms of inflammation: pain, swelling, redness, increased heat and loss of function. It can also cause difficulties speaking, chewing and breathing, and numbness or bruising of the face and neck. Some of these symptoms can quickly cause acute trauma to the body. A broken mandible causing swelling of the face and neck along with difficulty breathing can turn into an emergency situation if left untreated. If you think you have a broken mandible, it is crucial to visit a medical or dental professional as soon as possible.

Who Treats Mandibular Fractures

Your physician can take the appropriate imaging to make an initial diagnosis. If they diagnose a mandibular fracture, they will often refer you to a dental specialist, such as an oral and maxillofacial surgeon, for further treatment. The oral and maxillofacial surgeon will first determine the best plan for healing the bone while restoring the proper bite pattern, or occlusion, of the teeth. If the teeth are improperly aligned as the jaw heals, you may have future issues with temporomandibular pain.

Treatment of Mandibular Fractures

The treatment of a mandible fracture may include surgery. Treatment may also include wiring the mouth closed to stabilize the jaw joints as the bones heal. Following the removal of the wires, the doctor measures the stability of the jaw, and physical therapy is often scheduled to rebuild the strength of the jaw muscles and joints.

If you experience trauma near the jaw, see a doctor or dentist right away, especially if you have symptoms like swelling and breathing difficulty. Your health care provider can take a radiograph to determine if you have a mandibular fracture and direct you toward the right course of treatment.