Painful Jaw Lump Symptoms, Causes & Common Questions
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The most common causes for a painful jaw lump include temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ) or mononucleosis infection. Rare causes of painful bump under the chin are osteonecrosis of the jaw and fibrosarcoma. Read below for more information on causes of painful lump on the jaw and treatment options.
Painful lump on jaw/under chin explained
Jaw pain, especially when accompanied by a lump, can be frustrating. It can interfere with your ability to do everyday things like talking and eating. There are a limited number of causes of painful jaw lumps. The best course of treatment for a painful jaw lump will depend on its cause which can be determined by a medical provider.
Common characteristics of painful jaw lumps
Depending on their cause, jaw lumps may be:
- Large or small
- Soft or firm
- Single or multiple
- Mobile: This means it moves when you touch or press it.
- Fixed: This means it feels stuck in its location.
- Tender or not tender
Common accompanying symptoms
Jaw lumps can also be associated with:
- Difficulty chewing or opening your mouth
- Pain in the ear or area of the face around the jaw lump
- Clicking, popping or locking of the jaw during chewing or speaking
- Pain or tenderness
- Skin that feels hot to the touch in the area of the lump
- Cold or flu-like symptoms
- Night sweats
Duration of symptoms
The length of time that you may experience a jaw lump can vary.
- Temporary: Depending on the cause, a jaw lump may last for only a few days before resolving on its own or you may notice it persist for a week or more.
- Persistent: You may notice that a jaw lump that is persistent seems to grow over time as well.
- How to monitor: When monitoring your jaw lump, keep track of its size and color, any associated symptoms, and try to remember when you first noticed it.
What can cause a painful lump on the jaw?
There are a few potential causes for jaw lumps. How serious the jaw lump is and what kind of treatment is required depends on the cause.
Skin infections or those within the body due to bacteria or viruses can cause painful jaw lumps.
- Bacterial skin infections: Your skin is covered with hair follicles, tiny sacs from which every strand of hair grows. Sometimes a hair follicle can become infected by bacteria which leads to something called folliculitis. An open cut, if exposed, can also become infected leading to something called cellulitis, an infection of the skin and area under the skin. A skin infection that isn’t cleared up can lead to an abscess which is a pocket of pus that forms as your body tries to fight the infection.
- Lymph node enlargement: Lymph nodes are small glands where the cells that fight infections live. There are multiple clusters of lymph nodes all over your body and a few clusters are located along and under your jaw. In reacting to infection caused by bacteria, fungi or viruses lymph nodes can grow in size and appear as single or multiple lumps along or under your jaw.
- Salivary gland obstruction and infection: The salivary glands are small glands that produce saliva to lubricate food and start the digestion process. Some of these salivary glands live under the tongue and on the floor of your mouth. Sometimes the ducts through which saliva is secreted into your mouth can become narrow and/or blocked by crystallized saliva. When this happens, saliva gets backed up into the gland, and this can lead to pain and/or swelling of the glands and can potentially lead to infection of the salivary glands. Sometimes this can appear as a painful lump under the chin.
Injury to the jaw can cause a jaw fracture which may lead to a painful lump in the region of the fracture. Typically, an injury has to be due to severe force in order to lead to a jaw fracture. Painful jaw lumps can also sometimes be due to overuse or strain of the jaw joint, which can be associated with clicking, popping or locking of the jaw with chewing or talking.
Sometimes a jaw lump can be caused by abnormal growth of a variety of different cells that make up your body. These can include:
- Fat cells: These can grow into lumps called lipomas.
- Keratin collections: Jaw lumps can also be caused by a collection of keratin, the main protein in your skin, which can lead to cysts.
- Blood cells: When blood cells undergo abnormal growth or division, this can lead to lymphoma, a cancer of the blood cell system. Sometimes these cells can grow or divide inside lymph nodes under the jaw, leading to jaw lumps, along with other symptoms like fatigue, weight loss, and night sweats. However, jaw lumps associated with cancers are usually not painful.
- Connective tissue and bone cells: These cells can grow abnormally into lumps called fibrosarcomas.
This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.
Osteonecrosis is a process in which bone cells deteriorate and die. Osteonecrosis of the jaw (ONJ) occurs specifically in the cells of the maxilla and mandible jaw bones. This is a rare condition associated with dental extractions and bone therapies often used in ..
Infectious mononucleosis, also called "mono" or "kissing disease," can be debilitating for a while but is usually not dangerous in itself.
Several viruses cause mononucleosis. It spreads easily through saliva and other body fluids. Sharing a drinking glass or a spoon, or kissing someone who has the virus – even they show no symptoms – will transmit the disease. It can also be sexually transmitted.
Due to lifestyle, teenagers and young adults seem to be the most susceptible.
Symptoms include tiredness, sore throat, fever, rash, body aches, swelling in the neck and armpits, and sometimes swollen liver and spleen. The symptoms alone are usually enough for the doctor to make a diagnosis.
Because mononucleosis is caused by a virus, antibiotics will not help. Treatment consists of bed rest, fluids, and good nutrition. The patient should still be under a doctor's care due to the risk of secondary infections or damage to the heart, liver, and spleen.
Handwashing, cleanliness, not sharing dishes or drinking glasses, and not having unprotected sex are the best ways to prevent mononucleosis.
Top Symptoms: fatigue, headache, loss of appetite, abdominal pain (stomach ache), cough
Urgency: Primary care doctor
A fibrosarcoma is a rare, malignant type of soft tissue sarcoma that is made of fibrous connective tissues that connect, support, and surround the bones. They can spread and divide incredibly quickly.
Initial symptoms are not obvious, however, over time, you may notice a lump or swelling that may i..
Temporomandibular joint (tmj) dysfunction disorder
Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction is often caused by a variety of factors, including daily habits, your teeth alignment, and even stress. It usually affects one side of the jaw, but in some people it can affect both sides. People with TMJ dysfunction will typically experience pain on one side of the face that is worse with chewing, yawning, or other movements of the jaw. With some simple changes in your daily habits and other at-home treatments, most people with TMJ dysfunction will experience relief of their symptoms within weeks.
Treatment for temporomandibular joint dysfunction usually includes avoiding eating hard foods or foods that require a lot of chewing. Good posture and relaxation techniques may help relieve tension in the muscles that connect to your temporomandibular joint. In people who clench or grind their teeth, a mouth guard worn at night (and fitted by your dentist) may also help relieve your symptoms. Pain relievers, like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), can also help.
Top Symptoms: dizziness, pain, restricted movement, and clicking sounds from jaw, history of headaches, jaw pain, pain in the back of the neck
Symptoms that always occur with temporomandibular joint (tmj) dysfunction disorder: pain, restricted movement, and clicking sounds from jaw
Urgency: Primary care doctor
At-home and professional treatments for a painful jaw lump
There are certain at-home remedies you can try to alleviate symptoms of painful jaw lumps.
- Warm and cold compresses: These can help reduce pain and swelling if your jaw lump is due to infection, trauma or salivary gland obstruction.
- Over-the-counter medications: NSAIDs like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve) and aspirin can help reduce pain, swelling, and redness because they work by reducing inflammation in your body. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) can also help with pain and fever but does not address inflammation.
- Fluid intake: If your jaw lump is due to an infectious cause, increasing your fluid intake is critical in order to stay hydrated and keep your body strong enough to fight the infection, especially if you also have a fever.
- Salivary gland massage: If your jaw lump is due to salivary gland obstruction, massaging under your chin can sometimes help loosen whatever is trapped in the duct. Sour candies can also encourage saliva flow which may help dislodge the obstruction.
When to see a doctor
While some jaw lumps can be treated with at-home remedies, some require evaluation by a medical professional, especially if you notice any of the following:
- Redness that is worsening or spreading around the lump
- Difficulty opening or closing your jaw
If more conservative measures are ineffective, there are some treatments that can be completed by your medical provider, such as:
- Incision and drainage: If your jaw lump is caused by an infection that has led to a collection of pus under your skin, a medical professional may need to cut a small hole (incision) in the skin overlying the lump in order to drain the pus collection.
- Antibiotics: You may also be prescribed an antibiotic in pill or cream/ointment form in order to fight the infection if the jaw lump is due to a bacterial cause.
- Surgery: If the jaw lump is caused by an abnormal growth of cells, a physician may recommend surgery to remove the lump to assess what kind of cells are causing the growth and whether the growth is cancerous or not. Sometimes this surgery happens after a biopsy during which a small sample of the lump is taken and pathologist looks at the sample under a microscope to determine whether the abnormal cells are cancerous or at risk of becoming cancerous. If your jaw lump is caused by salivary gland obstruction, you may need a minor surgery to open up the gland or duct and remove the blockage.
When it is an emergency
You should seek immediate medical attention if your painful jaw lump is associated with any of the following symptoms or factors:
- Difficulty breathing
- Difficulty swallowing
- High fever
- Severe, sudden, or worsening pain and/or swelling
- Nausea and/or vomiting
FAQs about painful jaw lump
Will my jaw lump go away on its own?
It depends. If your jaw lump is due to abnormal cell growth, it might stay the same, grow, or shrink. If it is caused by infection, it might go away on its own as your body fights the infection or it might go away with some over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication like Advil or Motrin. If the infection has caused a collection of pus (an abscess) to form, it might go away, but typically this requires draining by a medical professional. Any lump that persists or grows over time should be seen by a medical provider.
Can a jaw lump mean cancer?
Sometimes a jaw lump can be due to cancer, but other causes of jaw lumps are more common. When jaw lumps are due to cancer, they are typically caused by the abnormal growth or multiplication of white blood cells, the cells in your body that usually fight infection. These white blood cells live in lymph nodes, small glands located in clusters all around your body. Usually, lymph nodes grow in size when reacting to infection caused by bacteria, fungi or viruses. More rarely, in a form of cancer called lymphoma, lymph nodes can enlarge if your white blood cells are growing abnormally. Lymph nodes from cancer are usually painless and associated with other symptoms like fatigue, unexplained weight loss, night sweats, fevers and/or chills. If you have any of these symptoms along with a jaw lump you should see a medical professional as soon as possible.
Can a jaw lump mean cancer somewhere else in my body?
Sometimes a jaw lump due to an enlarged lymph node can be a warning of cancer in another part of the body. Most commonly, cancerous lymph nodes under or along the jaw indicate cancer of the head and neck. Head and neck cancers most commonly start in the oral cavity region (including the tongue, hard palate, cheek, and gums), throat region (including the tonsils, base of tongue, and soft palate) and the larynx or voice box. Head and neck cancer is typically associated with tobacco or alcohol use.
How can I reduce my chances of being diagnosed with cancer?
Tobacco and alcohol are both risk factors that significantly increase the chances of many types of cancer. If you smoke, quitting can drastically reduce the risk of future cancers, and if you drink, cutting back significantly or avoiding alcohol altogether will decrease your risk of cancer. Some types of cancer are associated with HPV, one of the most common sexually transmitted infections. Rates of HPV associated with human papillomavirus or HPV and HPV associated cancers are unfortunately increasing. Vaccination with the anti-HPV vaccine can reduce the risk of many types of cancer and the vaccine is approved for people aged 11 to 45 years old.
Is my painful jaw lump serious?
A small jaw lump that resolves on its own is typically not serious. A jaw lump that persists for two or more weeks should be seen by a medical provider. A large jaw lump that is associated with redness or pain that does not seem to be resolving should be seen by a medical professional, especially if you also have a fever. Jaw lumps that are growing and/or feel fixed in place may be a sign of cancer, especially if associated with unexplained weight loss, fever or night sweats, and should be seen by a medical provider as soon as possible.
Questions your doctor may ask about painful jaw lump
- Are you experiencing a headache?
- Do you have a sore throat?
- Do you have a rash?
- Have you been experiencing a deep, aching bone pain that started for no apparent reason?
Self-diagnose with our free Buoy Assistant if you answer yes on any of these questions.
- Skin and soft tissue infections. American Family Physician. 2015;92(6):online. AAFP Link
- Folliculitis and carbuncles. Massachusetts General Hospital. Mass General Hospital Link
- Cellulitis. U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus. Updated June 6, 2018. MedlinePlus Link
- Abscess. U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus. Updated June 6, 2018. MedlinePlus Link
- Cysts. American Osteopathic College of Dermatology. AOCD Link