As part of our Complex Surgical Mission, we treat patients who have very severe cases of facial disfigurement. Some of these include Noma, large facial tumours known as Ameloblastomas, Trismus (Lockjaw) and abnormal bone tissue growths such as Cherubism. This article discusses Trismus, and the role of Project Harar in treating patients with this condition. 

What is Trismus?

Trismus, also known as lockjaw, is a term used to describe a person who has difficulty opening their mouth. It is a painful condition which leads to a number of problems as a result of the restricted movement.

What causes Trismus?

Trismus is caused when the muscles (and nerves) responsible for opening and closing the jaw become inflamed, affecting movement and causing pain. There are many reasons for this, and common causes include trauma to the jaw, oral surgery, facial tumours, and dysfunctions to the temporomandibular joint (a joint which connects the jawbone to the skull, allowing your mouth to open and shut).

What are the effects of Trismus?

People with trismus primarily have difficulty opening their mouth– a normal jaw should open between 40 to 50 millimetres. As a result, they struggle to perform basic tasks most of us take for granted, such as brushing their teeth, eating and chewing, and swallowing food. In addition, they can feel embarrassed eating in front of others and as a result often feel very isolated – group meals with friends and family are an important part of Ethiopian communities.

Trismus is usually temporary, and usually resolves within two weeks with the help from repeated exercises directed to open the jaw and pain relief. However, in rural areas of Ethiopia where there is limited access to health facilities, some cases can last longer, and therefore require greater support to rectify the condition.

Our role in treating Trismus

Some of our patients treated on our Complex Surgical Mission, have Trismus, including 17 year old Seso, who developed Trismus when she was just three years old. She used to eat by using her finger to push food into the side of her cheek and the back into her mouth. She was embarrassed, and therefore did not attend school and had very few friends.

We provided Seso with a distractor, a medical device which stretches the jaw, helping to open her mouth. Slowly, Seso’s jaw began to open, and she started to stick her tongue out in excitement for the first time in nine years! We re-visited Seso in 2015, and we are so pleased that she can now finally eat properly. She has returned to school, and has aspirations of becoming a doctor!

Please consider donating to help more children like Seso here.