Swollen jaw quiz
Take a quiz to find out what's causing your swollen jaw.
A swollen jaw could be a result of abnormalities within the structure of the jaw, issues with the teeth or gums, or swollen glands under the chin. Other swollen jaw causes include viral infections, like the mumps. a traumatic injury, or swollen lymph nodes under the jaw. Read below for more causes, related symptoms, and treatment options.
9 most common causes
Swollen jaw quiz
Take a quiz to find out what's causing your swollen jaw.
Most common questions
The swollen jaw symptoms you're having explained
Many structures that contribute to jaw function. The jaw is made up of two bones, the maxilla, or upper bone, and the mandible, or lower bone. The temporomandibular joint connects the mandible to the skull and allows for the chewing motion of the jaw. Abnormalities of the jaw bones or the temporomandibular joint can contribute to swelling. Problems with the teeth, gums, or the glands that produce saliva can cause swelling in the area of the jaw.
Common accompanying symptoms of a swollen jaw
Symptoms that may present with a swollen jaw include the following.
- Painless or painful swelling
- Difficulty opening the mouth
- Swelling occurring mostly with meals
- Systemic symptoms: Such as fever and tiredness
- Pain with chewing
- Decreased sensation and ability to move the facial muscles
- Swollen lymph nodes in the neck
Why is your jaw swollen?
The following details may help you better understand your symptoms and if and when you need to see a physician.
The following are common infectious causes of jaw swelling.
- Dental infection: An infection that starts in the teeth or gums can spread throughout the tissues of the mouth, causing swelling that can be in the jaw area. This type of infection can become severe and cause difficulty with opening the mouth, fever, and difficulty breathing.
- Bone or skin infection: A local infection of a jaw bone or the overlying soft tissues can cause swelling.
- Salivary gland infection: An infection of a salivary gland can cause sudden swelling and tenderness.
- Venous infection: Infection of the jugular vein in the neck can cause tenderness and swelling near the jaw, in addition to systemic symptoms such as fever and chills.
- Systemic infection: Viral infections, including mumps, can cause swelling of salivary glands. Systemic infections can also cause enlargement of lymph nodes in the neck. Either of these can give the jaw a swollen appearance.
Trauma to the jaw can result in swelling.
- Jaw injury: Trauma in the region of the jaw can cause a jaw bone fracture or a collection of blood within the tissue. Either of these will lead to swelling.
- Tooth extraction: Jaw swelling is a common reaction to the removal of a tooth.
Tumors of the jaw can result in swelling.
- Jaw bone tumors: Both benign and malignant tumors can start in the jaw bones, leading to swelling. Malignant tumors from other parts of the body can also metastasize to the jaw.
- Salivary gland tumors: A benign or cancerous tumor can develop in one of the salivary glands, causing swelling without pain. A tumor of one of the major salivary glands can potentially interfere with an adjacent nerve, causing a decreased sensation and facial movement.
- Lymphoma: One type of lymphoma usually presents with rapid jaw swelling, particularly among African patients.
Other causes that can result in jaw swelling include the following.
- Salivary duct stone: Chronic, intermittent swelling and tenderness over the jaw can occur if there is a stone blocking passage of saliva through the duct of a salivary gland.
- Arthritis: Rheumatoid arthritis can affect the temporomandibular joint, resulting in swelling along with pain while chewing.
This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.
Tooth abscess (infection)
A tooth abscess is a collection of infected material (pus) in the center of a tooth. It is due to a bacterial infection.
You should seek dental care within 24 hours. The diagnosis is made based on your history, an exam, and an x-ray of the mouth. If the abscess is affecting your breathing, it's considered a medical emergency and you should seek emergency care. Treatment involves incision and drainage of the abscess in addition to antibiotics.
Top Symptoms: severe jaw or tooth pain, swollen jaw, jaw stiffness, tooth pain that gets worse with hot, cold, or sweet beverages, warm and red jaw swelling
Symptoms that always occur with tooth abscess (infection): severe jaw or tooth pain
Urgency: Primary care doctor
Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) dysfunction disorder
Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) dysfunction disorder refers to long-term pain and dysfunction in the TMJ, the joint that connects the upper and lower jawbones.
The TMJ is a complex joint with complicated movements and is subject to strain and injury. Symptoms may come and go for no apparent reason. Misalignment of the teeth and jaw, and tooth grinding, are no longer believed to be a cause. Women seem to be more susceptible than men.
TMJ disorder has three types:
- Pain or discomfort in the muscles controlling the TMJ.
- Dislocation or injury to the jawbone.
- Arthritis of the TMJ.
Diagnosis is made through patient history, physical examination, and imaging. The goal is to rule out other causes such as sinus infection or facial nerve damage.
Due to the difficulty of diagnosing TMJ disorder, treatment begins with conservative methods that do not permanently change the jaw or teeth. Ice packs, soft foods, gentle stretching of the jaw muscles, and reducing stress are all encouraged. Short-term pain medications may be used. Splints, Botox, implants, and surgery are not recommended.
Salivary duct stone (sialolithiasis)
A salivary duct stone is the most common disorder of the salivary glands (where you make spit). They can range in size from tiny particles to stones that are several centimeters in length.
You can try treating this at home and going to the doctor if things don't work. You can stay well hydrated, apply warm compresses, and massage or "milk" the duct with the stone in it. Another tip would be to suck on lemon drops or other hard tart candy (called sialogogues, which promote salivary secretions) throughout the day. Pain is treated with NSAIDs like Ibuprofen. If things do not get better or you cannot find the stone, it's best to go to your doctor.
Top Symptoms: swelling on one side of the face, swollen jaw, painful face swelling, spontaneous jaw pain, painful jaw swelling
Urgency: Phone call or in-person visit
Myofascial pain syndrome
Myofascial pain syndrome is also called chronic myofascial pain (CMP.) Pressure on certain points of the muscles causes referred pain, meaning the pain is felt elsewhere in the body.
The cause is believed to be muscle injury through overuse, either from sports or from a job requiring repetitive motion. Tension, stress, and poor posture can also cause habitual tightening of the muscles, a form of overuse.
This overuse causes scar tissue, or adhesions, to form in the muscles. These points are known as trigger points, since they trigger pain at any stimulus.
Symptoms include deep, aching muscular pain that does not go away with rest or massage, but may actually worsen. There is often difficulty sleeping due to pain.
Myofascial pain syndrome should be seen by a medical provider, since it can develop into a similar but more severe condition called fibromyalgia.
Diagnosis is made through physical examination and applying mild pressure to locate the trigger points.
Treatment involves physical therapy, pain medications, and trigger point injections. In some cases, acupuncture and antidepressants are helpful.
Mumps or "the mumps" is a viral infection for which most people have been vaccinated when they were a child. Though in rare cases, even vaccinated people can still get sick. Symptoms of the are swelling of the parotid gland (this gland produces your spit and is located in the cheek), fever, face pain and a sore throat.
Since this infection is caused by a virus, treatment with antibiotics is not helpful. It usually resolves on its own. You can seek advice over the phone or in a retail clinic to have other infections ruled out and get symptomatic treatment. If you are pregnant and possibly exposed to mumps, you need to call your doctor.
Infection of the salivary duct (sialadenitis)
The ducts that create saliva can be infected by bacteria and is typically found after surgery in the mouth and in the elderly that take medications that slow saliva production.
You should visit your primary care physician or an urgent care today. In the most minor situation, you would need antibiotics for 10 days while the doctors identify the type of bug it is. In more severe cases, you might need to go to the hospital for antibiotics given through the blood.
Infected wisdom tooth (pericoronitis)
Pericoronitis of the 3rd molar is an infection of the gums surrounding the 3rd molar (wisdom tooth). It almost never happens to normal teeth because wisdom teeth take a long time to break the gums (erupt). It's believed that once the wisdom tooth breaks the surface of the gums, the bacteria in the mouth get into the gums at that spot and cause an infection. This is also worsened by food particles that build up in the area.
You should go immediately to your dentist, or, if they are not available, go to the nearest urgent care center. There, the dentist/doctor will clean the area, drain any pus, and write for an antibiotic mouth rinse. Penicillin is reserved for severe cases. A follow-up with a dentist is required to see if you need to get the tooth pulled.
Top Symptoms: possible wisdom tooth pain, moderate tooth pain, tooth pain that makes chewing difficult, severe tooth pain, mild tooth pain
Symptoms that always occur with infected wisdom tooth (pericoronitis): possible wisdom tooth pain
Urgency: In-person visit
Chronic inflammation of the salivary gland (parotitis)
The parotid glands are large salivary glands that sit inside each cheek, over the jaw in front of each ear. Chronic recurrent parotitis is a condition that causes repeated cycles of swelling in these glands, causing swelling and occasionally dry mouth or a strange taste.
You should visit your primary care physician for a thorough physical exam. The doctor may remove fluid from the gland to check for signs of infection, and perform imaging with an X-Ray or Ultrasound to figure out the cause of the recurrent inflammation. Treatment may involve prescription medication, or, in rare cases, surgery.
Rarity: Ultra rare
Top Symptoms: jaw pain, moderate fever, swollen jaw, dry mouth, swelling behind the ears
Symptoms that always occur with chronic inflammation of the salivary gland (parotitis): swollen jaw
Urgency: Primary care doctor
Allergic reaction (not life-threatening)
When the body encounters a harmful substance, it responds with inflammation and swelling that can be protective. In many individuals, the body responds this way to substances that are not normally harmful, like foods or pollen. This is the basis of allergic reaction, or Type 1 Hypersensitivity.
You should visit a physician right away to discuss the allergy and its severity, if you have not already been diagnosed. Your doctor may order an allergy screen to see what other substances produce the response. If you begin to feel tightness in the throat or difficulty breathing, get to an ER as soon as possible.
Treatments for your swollen jaw
Most causes of jaw swelling do not require urgent evaluation. However, some types of infection or injury can be severe or even life-threatening without quick treatment. In some situations, emergency management may be necessary to protect your airway.
When it is an emergency
Seek emergency treatment for your swollen jaw if you experience the following.
- You are having difficulty swallowing, speaking, breathing, or opening your mouth
- Your swelling is rapidly progressive: Meaning it is increasing steadily within one day
- You have systemic symptoms: Such as fever and fatigue.
- You experienced trauma: You have jaw swelling following blunt trauma, such as in a car accident.
- You have severe swelling: You have an untreated tooth infection and now are having severe swelling.
When to see a doctor
In some cases, even though emergency treatment isn't necessary, you may need evaluation and treatment of your swollen jaw. Make an appointment with your physician if you experience any of the following.
- You notice discomfort and swelling near the jaw that occurs when you eat
- You have painless swelling that is slowly increasing in size
- You have been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and now notice pain with chewing
- You have continued jaw swelling three days after the removal of a tooth
Your medical provider may prescribe one of the following treatments.
- Antibiotics to treat an infection
- Removal of a salivary gland or a stone that is blocking a salivary duct
- Further diagnostic workup and referral to a specialist: If cancer is suspected
- Treatment of an underlying medical condition: Such as rheumatoid arthritis
Some home treatments may help with a swollen jaw, including the following.
- Treatments for an infected salivary gland: Your doctor may provide antibiotics. Warm compresses can help with discomfort, and lemon drops can stimulate saliva production.
- Drink plenty of water in order to stay well-hydrated
- Gently massage the swollen area
- Use an ice pack: If you recently had a tooth extraction or other type of dental work, apply an ice pack for about 20 minutes at a time.
FAQs about swollen jaw
Can dental problems cause a swollen jaw?
Yes, dental problems can cause swelling in the area of the jaw. It is common to experience swelling and tenderness after having a tooth removed. If an infection that starts in a tooth is not treated, it can spread to deeper tissues in the mouth, and cause jaw swelling. Impaired breathing, difficulty swallowing, and difficulty opening the mouth may also occur.
Can a swollen jaw be caused by cancer?
In some cases, a swollen jaw can be due to cancer. Burkitt lymphoma is an aggressive type of cancer that often starts with rapid jaw or facial swelling, particularly when it occurs in people from African countries. If Burkitt lymphoma is the suspected cause of jaw swelling, an evaluation, including imaging and blood tests, are required. Other types of cancer that originate in the jaw bones or metastasize from other parts of the body can cause jaw swelling, which may be visible inside or outside the mouth.
Why does my jaw swell up when I eat?
If you notice that one side of your jaw becomes swollen and tender only when you eat, a salivary duct stone may be to blame. Eating causes the salivary glands to increase the production of saliva. A stone blocking the duct that usually delivers saliva from the gland to the mouth causes saliva to build up, causing swelling and pain. You may be able to feel the stone if you palpate the inside of the mouth in the swollen area.
Why is my jaw swollen on just one side?
Some causes of swelling will affect only one side of the jaw. Tumors, injury, or an infected salivary gland or tooth may occur on one side but is unlikely on both sides. Mumps, a viral infection that affects the large parotid salivary glands, can cause swelling on one or both sides.
Why is my jaw swelling increasing rapidly?
Rapid swelling of the jaw can be a sign of a dangerous infection, particularly if other symptoms are present such as tenderness, fever, and difficulty opening the mouth. Rapid swelling can also indicate an aggressive type of cancer. If your swelling continues to worsen, you should see a physician. Emergency treatment may be necessary to stabilize an infection or prevent side effects from a growing tumor.
Questions your doctor may ask about swollen jaw
- Is your swollen area warm and red?
- If you touch the swollen area, is there pain?
- Do you take good care of your teeth?
- Are your symptoms worse while eating?
Self-diagnose with our free Buoy Assistant if you answer yes on any of these questions.
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