What causes lockjaw?

What causes lockjaw?

Tetanus is often called \”lockjaw\” otherwise known as trismus because the most common signs of this infection is when neck and jaw muscles lock, making it hard to open the mouth or swallow. Tetanus infection can lead to serious health problems, including being unable to open the mouth and having trouble swallowing and breathing.

What is lockjaw?

Lockjaw is an infection caused by a bacterium called Clostridium tetani. Spores of tetanus bacteria are everywhere in the environment, including soil, dust, and manure. The spores develop into bacteria when they enter the body.

What causes lockjaw?

Tetanus infections occur when spores enter the body through breaks in the skin. Tetanus bacteria is likely to infect certain breaks in the skin caused by:

  • Wounds contaminated with dirt, poop (feces), or spit (saliva)
  • Wounds caused by an object puncturing the skin (puncture wounds), like a nail or needle
  • Burns
  • Crush injuries
  • Injuries with dead tissue
  • Surgical procedures
  • Insect bites
  • Dental infections
  • Compound fractures (a break in the bone where it is exposed)
  • Chronic sores and infections
  • Intravenous (IV) drug use
  • Intramuscular injections (shots given in a muscle)


Doctors can diagnose tetanus by examining the patient and looking for certain signs and symptoms. There are no hospital lab tests that can confirm tetanus.


  • Tetanus is a medical emergency requiring:
  • Care in the hospital
  • Immediate treatment with medicine called human tetanus immune globulin (TIG)
  • Aggressive wound care
  • Drugs to control muscle spasms
  • Antibiotics
  • Tetanus vaccination
  • Depending on how serious the infection is, a machine to help you breathe may be required.


Vaccination and good wound care are important to help prevent tetanus infection. Doctors can also use a medicine to help prevent tetanus in cases where someone is seriously hurt and doesn\’t have protection from tetanus vaccines.

Being up to date with your tetanus vaccine is the best tool to prevent tetanus. Protection from vaccines, as well as a prior infection, do not last a lifetime. This means that if you had tetanus or got the vaccine before, you still need to get the vaccine regularly to keep a high level of protection against this serious disease.

If you have questions about lockjaw make an appointment and visit the Plano dentist or Melissa dentists at Haight Family Dentistry today.

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