Why Do I Have A Swollen Jaw, And How Can I Treat It?

A swollen jaw can occur due to a lump or swelling on or near your jaw, causing it to appear larger than normal. Depending on what is causing it, you might notice stiffness in your jaw or feel pain and tenderness in your jaw, neck, or face.

Swelling in the jaw can result from several factors, such as viral infections like the common cold causing swollen glands or more severe conditions like mumps. Although rare, jaw swelling can also be a symptom of cancer. Furthermore, in uncommon cases, a severe allergic reaction called anaphylaxis can lead to jaw swelling, requiring urgent medical intervention.

Causes of Swollen Jaw

What are the Causes of Swollen Jaw?

There are several potential reasons for a swollen jaw, each with its own set of symptoms to consider:

Swollen Glands:

Your body’s lymph nodes, also known as glands, can enlarge in response to infection or illness. When swollen, these nodes are typically located near the source of the infection.

A common example is experiencing swollen glands in the neck as a result of a cold. Additionally, bacterial infections may lead to gland swelling, often requiring antibiotic treatment.

Swollen glands due to infection may feel tender when touched, and the skin covering them may appear red. Typically, once the underlying infection clears, the swelling subsides. However, swollen nodes caused by conditions like non-Hodgkin lymphoma tend to feel firm, fixed in place, and persist for an extended period, typically more than four weeks.

Trauma or Injury:

A swollen jaw can result from physical trauma or injury to the face, such as a fall or blow. This can lead to swelling, along with jaw pain and bruising. In severe cases, like a broken or dislocated jaw, immediate medical attention is necessary, as it may affect your ability to open or close your mouth comfortably.

Viral Infections:

Infections caused by viruses like the common cold or mononucleosis can trigger swelling of the lymph nodes in the neck, causing the jaw to swell. If a viral infection is the culprit, you may experience additional symptoms such as fatigue, sore throat, fever, and headache.

Bacterial Infections:

Certain bacterial infections, like strep throat and bacterial tonsillitis, can lead to swelling of the lymph nodes in your neck.

Other symptoms associated with bacterial infections include:

  • Fever
  • Sore throat
  • Redness or white patches in the throat
  • Enlarged tonsils
  • Toothache
  • Lump or blister on the gum

Tooth Abscess:

A tooth abscess develops when bacteria infiltrate a tooth’s pulp, leading to the formation of a pus-filled pocket.

An abscessed tooth is a severe condition. The infection may spread to the jawbone, neighboring teeth, and surrounding tissues if left untreated. If you suspect a tooth abscess, it’s crucial to seek dental attention promptly.

Symptoms of an abscess may include:

  • Intense throbbing
  • Toothache Pain that extends to the ear, jaw, and neck.
  • Swelling in the jaw or face
  • Red and swollen gums
  • Fever

Tooth Extraction:

Tooth extraction involves tooth removal and is typically performed due to severe tooth decay, gum disease, or overcrowding.

Pain and swelling are common in the initial days post-extraction. Some bruising may also occur. Managing pain with medication and applying ice packs can aid in the recovery process following a tooth extraction.

Pericoronitis:

Pericoronitis is when your gums become infected and swollen due to a wisdom tooth not fully emerging or only partially coming through. It can cause pain and swelling near the affected tooth, often accompanied by pus buildup. The infection may spread to your throat and neck, leading to further swelling in your face and jaw and possibly enlarging lymph nodes in your neck and jaw.

Tonsillitis:

It refers to the inflammation of the tonsils, which are two soft tissue pads located at the back of the throat. These glands play a crucial role in preventing harmful bacteria and other pathogens from getting into the body through the mouth or nose.

Symptoms of tonsillitis may include:

  • Sore throat
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Hoarse voice or inability to speak
  • Cough
  • Earache
  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue

Peritonsillar Abscess

A peritonsillar abscess, also known as a “quinsy,” is a collection of pus that forms between a tonsil and the throat wall.

Usually, the same bacteria responsible for strep throat trigger peritonsillar abscesses. They can also arise as a complication of tonsillitis, especially in older children, adolescents, and young adults.

The abscess may lead to swelling in the face, particularly around the jaw. Other symptoms may include:

  • Swollen lymph nodes in the neck
  • Sore throat
  • Muffled voice
  • Difficulty swallowing or opening the mouth wide
  • Headache
  • Chills or fever

Mumps:

Mumps is a viral infection that spreads quickly. It starts with symptoms like fever, muscle pain, and headaches. One of its distinct signs is the swelling of the salivary glands that results in swollen cheeks and a jaw. These glands are located on both sides of the face, just above the jawline. Other symptoms may include feeling tired and a reduced appetite. In severe cases, mumps can cause swelling of the brain, ovaries, or testicles. However, getting vaccinated against mumps can effectively prevent this infection.

Salivary Gland Issues:

Various conditions can impact your salivary glands, ranging from infections to autoimmune diseases and even cancer. Among these, the most frequent problems arise when the ducts within the glands become obstructed, leading to improper drainage.

Common salivary gland disorders and related issues include

  • Salivary gland stones (sialolithiasis)
  • Infection of a salivary gland (sialadenitis)
  • Viral infections like mumps
  • Cancerous and noncancerous tumors
  • Sjögren’s syndrome, an autoimmune disorder
  • Unspecific enlargement of salivary glands (sialadenosis)

Lyme Disease:

It is a serious bacterial infection that spreads through the bite of infected ticks. Sometimes, the infection may spread to your joints, heart, and nervous system.

Symptoms of Lyme disease typically start with:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Bull’s-eye rash
  • Swollen lymph nodes

Mononucleosis

Mononucleosis, commonly known as “mono,” is a viral infection that causes swelling of the lymph nodes in the neck and around the jaw.

Other symptoms may include:

  • Sore throat
  • Fever
  • Fatigue

The Epstein–Barr virus is responsible for most cases of mononucleosis. This virus is prevalent among teenagers and young adults.

Jaw cysts

Jaw cysts are sacs filled with fluid or solid material that can form within the jawbone or around the roots of a tooth. They often develop due to various factors such as:

  • Tooth decay
  • Tooth fracture
  • The impacted tooth is deeply lodged in the jawbone

As the cyst enlarges, it may lead to symptoms like:

  • Numbness or tingling sensations in the lips, gums, or teeth
  • Loosening of neighboring teeth
  • Weakening of the jawbone
  • The presence of a lump or swelling in the jaw

Thyroid nodules

These lumps are formed in the thyroid gland, situated at the base of the neck, below the Adam’s apple, and above the breastbone. This gland produces hormones crucial for various bodily functions.

While the exact cause of thyroid nodules is often unclear, factors like hypothyroidism and iodine deficiency are known to increase the risk.

Most thyroid nodules don't present symptoms, but when they do, they may include:

  • A visible lump in the neck
  • Discomfort or swelling in the neck, jaw, or ear
  • A sensation of tickling in the throat

Although around 90% of thyroid nodules are benign, a small percentage can be cancerous.

Thyroid cancer

Thyroid cancer may lead to swelling in the neck or jaw. Additionally, other forms of head and neck cancer, such as oral cancer, can also manifest similar symptoms.

Additional signs of head and neck cancer may include

  • A growth that feels hard or has an irregular shape
  • Sores that do not heal
  • Continuous pain in the neck, throat, or ears
  • Severe weight loss
  • Fatigue

How to diagnose a Swollen Jaw

How to Treat a Swollen Jaw

The doctor will go through your medical history, including any recent injuries or illnesses, along with your symptoms. They may then perform one or more of the following tests:

  • Physical examination
  • X-rays to detect fractures or tumors
  • Blood tests to identify infections
  • CT scan or MRI to assess for underlying conditions, including cancer
  • Biopsy if cancer is suspected or if other diagnostic tests are inconclusive

How to Treat a Swollen Jaw?

Treating a swollen jaw depends on its underlying cause. Here’s what you can do:

Home Remedies:

  • Apply an ice pack or cold compress to reduce swelling.
  • Take over-the-counter anti-inflammatories to ease discomfort.
  • Eat soft foods that are convenient to chew.
  • Use a warm compress over swollen lymph nodes for relief.

Medical Treatment:

  • For broken or dislocated jaws, your doctor may recommend bandaging or wiring.
  • Antibiotics can help treat bacterial infections.
  • Corticosteroids may be prescribed to reduce inflammation.
  • Surgical options include tonsillectomy for certain cases.
  • Cancer treatment, such as chemotherapy or radiation, may be necessary for cancer-related swelling.

Conclusion

If your jaw swells after an injury, or if the swelling lasts for more than a few days and is accompanied by signs of infection like fever, headache, and fatigue, it’s important to see a doctor or dentist promptly.

Ready to address your swollen jaw and regain your oral health? Contact Chevy Chase Dental Care, MD, today to schedule an appointment. Whether you’re a new patient or a returning one, booking is simple. New patients can call us at (301) 302 7761, while current patients can reach us at (301) 652 5881 or visit our website to book online.

FAQ

Can stress cause a swollen jaw?

Stress doesn’t directly lead to a swollen jaw but can worsen conditions like teeth grinding (bruxism), which may eventually cause jaw pain and swelling.

A swollen jaw can indicate various issues ranging from dental problems to infections or injuries, but it doesn’t always signify a serious condition. Some causes may resolve on their own or with simple treatments.

Allergies can sometimes result in jaw swelling, particularly if the allergen triggers inflammation or swelling in the mouth or throat area. In severe cases like anaphylaxis, jaw swelling may be a symptom of a severe allergic reaction and requires immediate medical attention.

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