Why Is My Jaw Swollen? - Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment & More

Clinical Content Reviewed by Dr. Jay Khorsandi, DDS
Last Modified:

Table of Contents

  1. Causes & Treatments of Swollen Jaw
  2. Accompanying Symptoms
  3. Diagnosis
  4. When to See a Doctor

A swollen jaw is hard to ignore. You may see it when you look in the mirror, and in some cases, the swelling is accompanied by significant pain and tenderness.

Infections like tooth abscesses and tonsillitis can cause a swollen jaw, as can infectious diseases like mumps. Often, these conditions cause pain and fevers as well as swelling. These problems require appropriate care, as they may not go away without help.

Some minor cases of jaw swelling (like that you could endure after a nasty fall) could respond well to at-home care. If your pain is manageable and fading with time, you may not need a doctor’s help.

However, never assume that your swelling is benign. When you’re in doubt, ask a medical professional for advice and treatment.

Do I Need Urgent Care?

This article is written for educational purposes, and it shouldn’t be used as a substitute for medical care. However, we know people with a swollen jaw want answers about when they should go to a doctor immediately and when a problem can wait. This symptom checker might be useful in those situations: 


Urgent care recommended

Non-urgent doctor visit recommended

At-home care recommended

Sudden, severe swelling in the jaw and your face




Persistent swelling that isn’t responding to at-home care




Difficulty breathing




Fever with swelling




Redness with swelling




Swelling with headache, muscle aches, tiredness, loss of appetite




Mild or moderate pain that comes and goes




Swelling from a known source (like a fall) that didn’t cause lacerations




Source 1, Source 2, Source 3

Causes and Treatment of Swollen Jaw

There are several causes of a swollen jaw. The most common are:

  • Tooth abscess

  • Pericoronitis

  • Tonsillitis

  • Injury or trauma

  • Mumps

  • Cysts

A tooth abscess is a pouch of pus that forms when bacteria penetrate the center of a tooth. The most common sign of a dental abscess is a hammering pain near a tooth or in the gums.

Periapical, periodontal, and gingival are the three common forms of tooth abscesses. What type of abscess you have determines the treatment options:

  • Extraction: If the tooth sustains too much damage and the dentist cannot save it, they will have to extract and drain the abscess.

  • Clearing the abscess: The dentist will incise the abscess to drain the pus then clean the area with salt water (saline).

  • Antibiotics: If an infection escalates to other areas or your immune system is weak, the dentist may prescribe antibiotics to prevent further spread.

  • Root canal: This procedure involves digging into the tooth with the abscess, extracting the pulp, and clearing out the abscess, then filling and sealing the empty spaces.

Pericoronitis is a condition in which the gums around the wisdom teeth molars swell. It occurs in molars that break through the gum and treatment is subject to whether the disease is acute or chronic. Treatment options include:

  • Surgery: The dentist will refer you to a tooth surgeon (oral and maxillofacial surgeon) to remove the wisdom tooth or the gum flap if the inflammation is severe. You may require additional surgery if the inflammation or swelling of your gum tissue (pericoronitis) recurs.

  • Pain medication: Here, the dentist lets the gum swelling erupt on its own, they may prescribe a pain reliever and then clean the gum around the tooth to stop food particles and plaque buildup.

  • Oral health: The dentist may recommend an oral rinse or cleaning your mouth with warm salty water if the infection is in a small area and hasn’t spread.

Tonsils are two lumps of tissue at the rear of the throat. Tonsillitis is a condition in which the tonsils swell. Swollen tonsils are the most common sign of tonsillitis. There are two types of tonsillitis: viral and bacterial tonsillitis. Among the treatment options:

  • Tonsillectomy: This procedure removes the tonsils via surgery. If tonsillitis keeps recurring or you have trouble breathing or swallowing, your doctor may recommend the procedure.

  • Antibiotics: If a bacterial infection is the cause of the tonsillitis, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics. You must complete the full dose of the medication even when the symptoms disappear.

  • Home remedies: If a virus is the cause of your tonsillitis, your body may have to fight the infection on its own, as antibiotics won’t help. Gargling warm salty water, getting enough rest, drinking warm fluids, and taking a painkiller to reduce pain and inflammation should help fight the virus.

A blow to the face or a fall may cause a swollen jaw. You can manage mild cases by compression, protecting the injured area from further injury, pressing ice to the affected area, and over-the-counter painkillers.

Severe cases may require more robust treatment, starting with a trip to urgent care or the emergency room. Often in these cases, the best immediate action is surgery.

The viral infection causes swollen salivary glands, leading to a swollen jaw. Vaccination remains the best way to combat the condition. Rest, apply ice packs over swollen glands, avoid acidic foods, and drink plenty of fluids.

Jaw cysts are sac-like pockets that contain fluid or semisolid material and form within the tissues of the jaw. Jaw cysts are ordinarily benign. In most cases, cysts treatment is surgery. Your doctor may remove the cyst and any broken or harmful teeth.

Accompanying Symptoms

These are the most common symptoms of swollen jaw:

  • Painful or painless swelling

  • Fever and fatigue

  • Swollen lymph nodes in the neck

  • Pain when chewing

  • Difficulty in opening mouth

  • A decline in sensation and ability to move facial muscles

  • Swelling that occurs with eating meals

Getting Diagnosed

Since a swollen jaw can stem from so many different types of injuries and illnesses, it’s tough to know exactly what will happen during a medical appointment for this problem.

Researchers say that 20% of the information doctors need to diagnose and manage a condition comes through a physical examination. That process can involve the following:

  • Taking your vital signs to look for evidence of fever or high blood pressure

  • Examining your eyes and ears for evidence of head trauma

  • Palpating your throat and neck for evidence of swelling, cysts, or gland problems

  • Examining your torso for signs of heart and lung damage that could contribute to swelling

Your doctor might use an x-ray if the swelling could be caused by broken bones, abnormal masses, dental problems, or stones in your salivary glands. When used appropriately, experts say, x-rays can help to diagnose life-threatening conditions quickly.

If swollen lymph nodes are causing your jaw issue, your doctor might order blood tests to look for signs of infection. These tests are very effective at spotting signs that your immune system is reacting to an invader. If those tests are clear and your swollen jaw is still a problem, your doctor might need to take a small sample (a biopsy) of the tissue to rule out cancer.

When to See a Doctor

The majority of swollen jaw causes do not necessitate medical intervention. However, see a doctor if the jaw swells following an injury, the swelling persists or worsens, or other severe symptoms present such as:

  • Possible cancer

  • Difficulty in breathing

  • Jaw cyst

  • Bacterial infection

  • Fever

There are many possible causes of swollen jaws. Most of them are minute and go away with little or no treatment. See a doctor if the swelling persists, worsens, or other concerning symptoms.

Prepare for a Swollen Jaw Doctor’s Visit

If your swollen jaw needs medical care, your doctor will need to perform a hands-on examination of the site to assess your symptoms. You may also be asked questions to help the doctor understand what happened.

 Common questions doctors ask about a swollen jaw include the following:

  • Does it hurt?

  • How much does it hurt?

  • Where exactly do you notice the pain?

  • What makes the discomfort feel better?

  • What makes your pain worse?

  • Do you have any other symptoms?

If you know what caused the swelling (like an accident), be prepared to discuss that in detail. Talk about what happened, when it happened, and what you’ve tried at home to fix it.

 If you’re not sure why your swollen jaw issue appeared, tell your doctor that too. Any information you can give will help your doctor obtain the right diagnosis and create a good treatment plan.

Disclaimer: This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to serve as dental or other professional health advice and is not intended to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any condition or symptom. You should consult a dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.