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What Causes a Swollen Jaw & How to Treat It

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Last updated March 16, 2021

Swollen jaw questionnaire

Use our free symptom checker 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.

Swollen jaw questionnaire

Use our free symptom checker to find out what's causing your swollen jaw.

Swollen jaw symptom checker

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.

Infectious causes

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.

Traumatic causes

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.

Swollen jaw questionnaire

Use our free symptom checker to find out what's causing your swollen jaw.

Swollen jaw symptom checker

Other causes

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.

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.

Rarity: Uncommon

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

Tooth abscess (infection)

A tooth abscess is a collection of infected material (pus) in the center of a tooth. It is due to bacterial infection.

Rarity: Uncommon

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

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.

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

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.

Rarity: Rare

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

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

Medical treatments

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

At-home treatments

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.

Swollen jaw questionnaire

Use our free symptom checker to find out what's causing your swollen jaw.

Swollen jaw symptom checker

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.

Hear what 1 other is saying
Tooth abscess while on vacationPosted June 1, 2021 by D.
While on vacation in Denver, I woke up one morning to quite a swollen face. It was the right side specifically. I thought the swelling was due to a long vertical hike, with major elevation changes, the previous day. My host also had a long-haired cat that shed a lot. Not thinking it was too severe of an issue, I continued to enjoy my vacation and didn't seek any immediate medical attention. The swelling was mild and noticeable while wearing a mask. This was still during the pandemic when wearing face coverings while in public was still encouraged. On day two, the swelling was most certainly worst. Now the swelling had increased to the point where my eye was swollen and my lip was drooping. I was surely taken back, as I'd never seen my face like this before. The first thing I did was book a hotel room to get as far away from the cat as possible. My host was somewhat offended, but I had to act on what was best for me. Once I arrived at my hotel room, I began researching every possible reason I was experiencing this type of face swelling. The majority of information pointed to the cause being allergies or dental-related. This made sense, as I'd recently experienced both. Two weeks before vacation, I had a small cavity filled that had abnormally caused me pain. Then being within such proximity to my friend's cat for an extended amount of time. I became extremely disappointed with my dentist, as I had a follow-up appointment with them to address the unusual discomfort I felt after a routine filling procedure. This follow-up was days before I departed for Denver. I also mentioned I would be heading to Denver. My dentist didn't take my concerns seriously and missed an opportunity to evaluate my tooth and determine it was infected. After hours of research and a virtual urgent care visit with a teledoctor, I was diagnosed with a tooth abscess. It was Memorial Day, so the majority of the city was closed to celebrate. After three hours, I was able to get a prescription and lock myself in my hotel room. This, by far, was the most non-vacation vacation I've ever had.
Dr. Rothschild has been a faculty member at Brigham and Women’s Hospital where he is an Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. He currently practices as a hospitalist at Newton Wellesley Hospital. In 1978, Dr. Rothschild received his MD at the Medical College of Wisconsin and trained in internal medicine followed by a fellowship in critical care medicine. He also received an MP...
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