A swollen jaw can be caused by a lump or swelling on or near your jaw, making it look fuller than usual. Depending on the cause, your jaw may feel stiff, or you may have pain and tenderness in the jaw, neck, or face.
There are a number of potential causes of a swollen jaw, from swollen glands in the neck or jaw caused by a virus, such as the common cold, to more serious illnesses, such as the mumps. Though rare, cancer can also cause a swollen jaw.
In some cases, swelling is a sign of a severe allergic reaction called anaphylaxis that requires urgent medical care.
Call 911 or your local emergency services or go to the nearest emergency room if you or someone else experiences sudden swelling of the face, mouth, or tongue, a rash, and difficulty breathing.
Here are possible causes of a swollen jaw and other symptoms that can help you narrow it down.
Your glands, or lymph nodes, can swell in response to infection or illness. Swollen nodes are usually located close to the sight of the infection.
Swollen glands caused by an infection may be tender to the touch and the skin over them may appear red. They usually return to normal when the infection clears. Swollen nodes caused by cancer, such as non-Hodgkin lymphoma, tend to be hard and fixed in place, and last longer than four weeks.
Trauma or injury
Trauma or injury from a fall or blow to the face can cause your jaw to swell. You’ll likely also have jaw pain and bruising. A broken or dislocated jaw, which requires immediate treatment, can make it hard to open or close your mouth.
Viral infections, such as a cold or mononucleosis, can cause the lymph nodes in your neck to swell. If your swollen jaw is caused by a viral infection, you’ll likely experience other symptoms, such as:
Other symptoms of a bacterial infection include:
- sore throat
- redness or white patches in the throat
- enlarged tonsils
- lump or blister on the gum
A tooth abscess occurs when bacteria enters the pulp of your tooth and causes a pocket of pus to form.
An abscessed tooth is a serious condition. Left untreated, the infection can spread to the jaw bone, other teeth, and other tissues. If you believe you have a tooth abscess see a dentist as soon as possible.
Symptoms of an abscess include:
- intense, throbbing tooth pain
- pain that radiates to your ear, jaw, and neck
- swollen jaw or face
- red and swollen gums
Tooth extraction, or removal of a tooth, may be performed because of excessive tooth decay, gum disease, or teeth crowding.
Mild symptoms include painful, swollen gum tissue around the affected tooth and a buildup of pus. Left untreated, the infection can spread to your throat and neck, causing swelling in your face and jaw, and enlarged lymph nodes in your neck and jaw.
Your tonsils are lymph nodes located on each side of the back of your throat. Tonsillitis is an infection of your tonsils, which can be caused by a virus or bacteria.
A very sore throat with swollen lymph glands in the neck and jaw are common symptoms of tonsillitis. Other symptoms include:
Mumps is a contagious viral infection that begins with fever, muscle aches, and headache. Swelling of the salivary glands is also common and causes puffy cheeks and swollen jaw. Your three major pairs of salivary glands are located on each side of your face, just above your jaw.
Other symptoms can include fatigue and loss of appetite. In severe cases, swelling of the brain, ovaries, or testicles can occur.
Vaccination can prevent mumps.
Salivary gland problem
A number of conditions can affect your salivary glands, including infections, autoimmune disorders, and cancer. The most common problems occur when the ducts become blocked, preventing proper drainage.
Salivary gland disorders and other problems include:
- salivary gland stones (sialolithiasis)
- infection of a salivary gland (sialadenitis)
- viral infections, such as mumps
- cancerous and noncancerous tumors
- Sjögren’s syndrome, an autoimmune disorder
- nonspecific salivary gland enlargement (sialadenosis)
Lyme disease is serious bacterial infection that is transmitted through the bite of infected ticks.
Lyme disease symptoms often begin with:
- bull’s-eye rash
- swollen lymph nodes
Left untreated, the infection can spread to your joints, heart, and nervous system.
Myalgic encephalomyelitis (chronic fatigue syndrome)
Myalgic encephalomyelitis (chronic fatigue syndrome) (ME/CFS) is disorder characterized by chronic fatigue that is not related to any underlying condition. It affects up to
Symptoms of ME/CFS include:
- brain fog
- unexplained muscle or joint pain
- enlarged lymph nodes in the neck or armpits
Syphilis is a serious bacterial infection, usually spread through sexual contact. The condition develops in stages, often beginning with the development of a sore called a chancre at the site of infection.
In its secondary stage, syphilis can cause a sore throat and swollen lymph nodes in the neck. Other symptoms can include a full-body rash, fever, and muscle aches.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a common chronic degenerative disease that causes swelling, pain, and stiffness in the joints. The first sign of the condition is usually redness and inflammation over certain joints.
Some people with RA develop swollen lymph nodes and inflammation of the salivary glands. Inflammation of the temporomandibular joint (TMJ), which connects your lower joint to your skull, is also common.
Lupus is an autoimmune disorder that causes inflammation and a wide range of symptoms that can affect any part of the body. Symptoms can come and go and range in severity. Swelling of the face, hands, legs, and feet are common early signs of lupus.
Other common symptoms include:
- painful or swollen joints
- mouth sores and ulcers
- swollen lymph nodes
- butterfly-shaped rash across the cheeks and nose
Ludwig’s angina is a rare bacterial skin infection on the floor of the mouth, under the tongue. It often develops after a tooth abscess or other mouth infection or injury. The infection causes swelling of the tongue, jaw, and neck. You may also experience drooling, trouble speaking, and fever.
Prompt medical treatment is needed because the swelling can become severe enough to block the airway.
Oral and oropharyngeal cancers, which start in the mouth or throat, can cause a swollen jaw. Other types of cancer can spread to the jaw bone or to the lymph nodes in the neck and jaw, causing swelling.
The symptoms of cancer vary depending on the type, location, size, and stage.
Other common signs of oral and oropharyngeal cancers include:
- a sore in the mouth or on the tongue that doesn’t heal
- persistent sore throat or mouth pain
- a lump in the cheek or neck
Your swollen jaw may be accompanied by other symptoms. Here’s what certain symptoms together can mean.
Swollen jaw on one side
Swelling on only one side of your jaw can be caused by:
- injury or trauma
- abscessed tooth
- tooth extraction
- noncancerous or cancerous salivary gland tumor
Swollen jaw under ear
If your jaw is swollen under the ear, it’s likely swollen jaw nodes that can be caused by:
- viral infection
- bacterial infection
- abscessed tooth
- salivary gland problem
- rheumatoid arthritis
Toothache and swollen jaw
The most likely causes include:
- abscessed tooth
Swollen jaw and no pain
Swollen lymph nodes are often painless, so if your jaw appears swollen, but you don’t have any pain, it could indicate the start of a bacterial or viral infection, or be caused by rheumatoid arthritis or a salivary gland problem.
Swollen cheek and jaw
An abscessed tooth, tooth extraction, and pericoronitis are most likely to cause swelling in the cheek and jaw. Mumps can also cause it.
To diagnose the cause of your jaw swelling, a doctor will first ask about your medical history, including any recent injuries or illnesses, and your symptoms. The doctor may also use one or more of the following tests:
Treatment for a swollen jaw depends on the cause. Home remedies may be helpful in relieving symptoms. Medical treatment may be required to treat a broken or dislocated jaw or an underlying condition.
You may be able to relieve symptoms of a swollen jaw by:
- applying an ice pack or cold compress to relieve swelling
- taking over-the-counter (OTC) anti-inflammatories
- eating soft foods
- applying a warm compress over infected lymph nodes
Medical treatment options are available to treat underlying conditions that can cause jaw swelling. These can include:
See a doctor if your jaw swells following an injury or if the swelling persists for more than a few days or is accompanied by signs of an infection, such as fever, headache, and fatigue.
Get emergency care if you:
- are unable to eat or open your mouth
- are experiencing swelling of the tongue or lips
- have trouble breathing
- have a head injury
- have a high fever
A swollen jaw that results from a minor injury or tooth extraction should improve within a few days with self-care. If the swelling makes it difficult to eat or breathe or is accompanied by severe symptoms, get immediate medical care.