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

Why Is My Jaw Swollen? - Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment & More
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Why Is My Jaw Swollen? - Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment & MoreClinical Content Reviewed by Dr. Jay Khorsandi, DDS
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Table of Contents

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

If you have swollen jaw, it will probably feel fuller than usual, and you made notice the development of a lump. There are many causes of jaw swelling that lead to accumulation of fluid or inflammation on the bone.

The swelling may go away on its own after a couple of days. However, persistent swelling indicates an underlying health condition that requires treatment.

If the swelling persists, is painful or comes accompanied by fever and respiratory problems, seek urgent medical care. You can take some comfort in the fact that it is rare when swelling indicates the presence of cancer.

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
Tooth Abscess

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.
Injury or Trauma

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

To affirm a diagnosis, the doctor will ask about your medical history, as well as injuries, illnesses, or other symptoms since certain diseases can cause swollen jaws. After discussing your symptoms, doctors will examine the lump for size, warmth, texture and tenderness.

Your doctor may recommend a blood test to rule out or confirm any underlying cause. Specific tests will depend on the suspected cause, and the doctor may also test for a complete blood count to evaluate your general health or look for any disorder.

The doctor may prescribe imaging tests for further examination if necessary. An X-ray of the area with the swelling may help determine the source of the infection.

If the doctor suspects cancer or other tests can’t pinpoint the cause, you will undergo a biopsy. It is a less invasive test where a doctor extracts a sample of cells from the swelling to test for 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.


Swollen lymph nodes. (October 2021). Mayo Clinic.

Types of tonsillitis. (June 2019). Cleveland Clinic.

Types of tooth abscess. (August 2020). Cleveland Clinic.

Impacted wisdom teeth. (March 2018). Mayo Clinic.

Signs & Symptoms of Mumps. (March 2021). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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.