Jaw Swelling

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Introduction

What is jaw swelling?

Jaw swelling is a symptom characterized by a swelling that results in the jaw becoming larger than normal or a lump developing on the jaw. Jaw swelling may occur for many reasons that lead to accumulation of fluid in the skin above the jaws or inflammation of the jaws.

Mild jaw swelling, which could be caused by a recent injury or surgery, may heal on its own or improve with home treatment such as over-the-counter pain medication, anti-inflammatory medication, or cold compresses. If swelling is painful or bothersome, however, professional medical care may be necessary.

Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if your symptoms of jaw swelling or those of someone you are with, are accompanied by sudden swelling of the face, lips or tongue; a rash; or respiratory or breathing problems such as shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, labored breathing, wheezing, not breathing, or choking, as these may be signs of a severe allergic reaction. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, develop a high fever (higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit) and painful swelling of the jaws, as your symptoms may be related to mumps, a serious viral disease, or another serious infection.

If you have a firm, inexplicable lump on the jaw or if your jaw swelling is persistent or causes you concern, seek prompt medical care.

Symptoms

What other symptoms might occur with jaw swelling?

Jaw swelling may accompany other symptoms which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition.

Skin symptoms that may occur along with jaw swelling

Jaw swelling may accompany other symptoms affecting the skin including:

  • Bleeding or bruising

  • Bumps

  • Dental pain

  • Hives

  • Itchy, oily or dry skin

  • Rash

  • Redness or warmth

Other symptoms that may occur along with jaw swelling

Jaw swelling may accompany symptoms related to other body systems including:

  • Fever

  • Itchy eyes

  • Pain in other parts of the face or the teeth

  • Sneezing

Serious symptoms that might indicate a life-threatening condition

In some cases, jaw swelling may be a symptom of a life-threatening condition such as a severe allergic reaction or infection that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have any of these life-threatening symptoms including:

  • High fever (higher that 101 degrees Fahrenheit)

  • Respiratory or breathing problems such as shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, labored breathing, wheezing, not breathing, or choking

  • Sudden swelling of the face, lips or tongue

Causes

What causes jaw swelling?

Jaw swelling is often caused by underlying issues with the teeth, such as dental caries or a tooth abscess, or following dental and oral surgery procedures like wisdom teeth removal. Jaw swelling can also arise from dermatological (skin) conditions, such as excessive oil accumulation, which can lead to acne; a cyst (a benign sac that contains fluid, air, or other materials); skin infections; or skin growths, such as keloids, which develop when scars form excess tissue. Other causes of jaw swelling include recent surgery or injury.

Adjacent to the jaw are lymph nodes and the parotid gland, a salivary gland. Enlargement of these structures, for whatever reason, will lead to jaw swelling. Inflammation, infection, and cancer are often responsible.

In some cases, jaw swelling can be a symptom of a serious allergic reaction that should be immediately evaluated in a medical setting. If swelling is painful and you are having difficulty chewing, the symptoms may be due to mumps, a serious viral infection. In very rare cases, jaw swelling may be directly due to cancer of the jaw.

Dental causes of jaw swelling

Jaw swelling may be caused by an underlying issue with the teeth including:

  • Dental caries
  • Following dental or oral surgery procedures
  • Growth of wisdom teeth and their extraction
  • Growth of wisdom teeth
  • Jaw cyst (a benign sac that contains fluid, air, or other materials)
  • Tooth abscess
  • Tooth or jaw infection

Dermatological causes of jaw swelling

Jaw swelling can also be caused by skin problems including:

  • Acne
  • Boils
  • Cellulitis (a common bacterial skin infection)
  • Infection
  • Ingrown hairs
  • Keloids (excess scar tissue)
  • Rosacea (chronic redness of the skin)
  • Sebaceous cysts (a benign sac under the skin that contains a white, oily material)
  • Seborrhea (common red, itchy rash with white scales)

Other causes of jaw swelling

Jaw swelling can also occur due to other causes including:

  • Burns
  • Hereditary angioedema (a serious genetic disorder that causes periodic swelling of the throat and other areas)
  • Jaw injury or trauma
  • Jaw surgery
  • Lymph node enlargement (right in front of ear)
  • Malnutrition
  • Mumps (a viral infection of the salivary glands in the neck)
  • Side effects to medications such as antibiotics or angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors
  • Swollen salivary glands
  • Weight gain or obesity

Serious or life-threatening causes of jaw swelling

In some cases, jaw swelling may be a symptom of a serious or life-threatening condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. These include:

  • Anaphylaxis (a severe allergic reaction)
  • Angioedema (a severe swelling beneath the skin that can cause breathing difficulty)
  • Cancer of the jaw

Questions for diagnosing the cause of jaw swelling

To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your jaw swelling including:

  • How long has your jaw been swollen?
  • Do you have any allergies?
  • Have you had jaw surgery or a jaw injury recently?
  • How painful is your jaw swelling?
  • What improves or worsens your jaw swelling?
  • What medications are you taking?
  • What other symptoms do you have?

What are the potential complications of jaw swelling?

Jaw swelling is generally not life threatening and can be treated with over-the-counter medications or home remedies such as cold compresses. In more serious cases, medical treatment is usually effective at removing the cause of jaw swelling. Because jaw swelling can be due to serious diseases, failure to seek treatment can result in serious complications and permanent damage. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, it is important for you to follow the treatment plan that you and your health care professional design specifically for you to reduce the risk of potential complications including:

  • Difficulty chewing, speaking, and swallowing
  • Pain that does not respond to treatment (intractable pain)
  • Permanent damage to the jaw
  • Severe breathing problems
  • Spread of cancer
  • Spread of infection
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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2018 Dec 2
  1. Facial swelling. MedlinePlus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003105.htm
  2. Facial trauma. PubMed Health, a service of the NLM from the NIH. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0002057/
  3. Kahan S, Miller R, Smith EG (Eds.). In A Page Signs & Symptoms, 2d ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott, Williams & Williams, 2009
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