What Can Cause a Swollen Jaw?

Traumatic injury may cause a swollen jaw.
Temporomandibular joint disorder may result in a swollen jaw.
Dental infections may cause a swollen jaw.
Infections in the lymph nodes can lead to a swollen jaw.
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  • Written By: Meshell Powell
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 21 November 2014
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A swollen jaw is a troubling symptom that can have a variety of causes. Some of the most common causes of a swollen jaw include traumatic injury, infection, or dental problems. Cysts or tumors may also cause the jaw to swell, depending on their size and location. A disorder affecting the muscles and joints of the jaw, referred to as TMJ or temporomandibular joint disorder, is another potential culprit. Any questions or concerns about the development of jaw swelling should be addressed with a doctor or other medical professional.

Traumatic injuries are among the most obvious causes of a swollen jaw. These injuries may occur from such things as accidental sports injuries, automobile accidents, or physical abuse. An injury such as this should be evaluated by a doctor right away to make sure the jaw is not fractured or to ensure that the muscles or nerves have not suffered significant damage. Depending on the type of injury present, surgical intervention may become necessary.

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Infections and dental issues may sometimes cause swelling in the jaw. The infections could be related to underlying dental issues or may stem from a systemic infection that settles in the lymph nodes. Prescription antibiotics are typically needed to clear up the infection and can be prescribed by either a doctor or a dentist. Dental issues such as cavities, abscesses, and broken or otherwise damaged teeth may sometimes cause the jaw to swell. Proper medical and dental care is important, as infections that begin in the mouth are able to migrate to other areas of the body, sometimes leading to quite serious medical complications.

Cysts or tumors are rather uncommon, although they may cause the jaw to swell if they are present. If the mass cannot be detected upon physical examination and other causes have been ruled out, the doctor or dentist may order additional tests, such as x-rays, in order to diagnose the problem. In many cases, surgical intervention to remove the mass is necessary.

TMJ, also referred to as temporomandibular joint disorder, affects the muscles surrounding the jaw as well as the joint that allows the jaw to move. In some cases, this condition may result in a swollen jaw that often resolves on its own, only to recur later. While over-the-counter or prescription medications may help with some of the symptoms associated with this disorder, extreme cases of TMJ frequently require some sort of surgical intervention.

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anon330749
Post 11

My mother is a gynaecologist aged 50, and about seven or eight years ago, her incisors and some other teeth loosened up, maybe because of very poor dental hygiene and her habit of eating solid ice, which caused her gums to shrink.

Several years passed, but she didn't get dental care, and about a year and a half ago, she noticed an enlarged, painless lymph node (easily mobile) on the left side of her face along the outer border of lower jaw, which she noticed could be easily seen as a swelling on her face over her mandible. Again, she didn't take care of it, but the node did not increase in size.

About four months ago, my mother had some dental work done, and had two lower molars extracted on the same left side where the enlarged node was. She also had the upper moving incisors fixed. Everything was normal and the node remained the same size and and in the same location.

Suddenly, there was an enormous swelling around the node overnight, which bulged out of her face on the left side, but it was painless. She took oral antibiotics but they had no effect. She had an ultrasound done, and it showed necrotic material in node, but the node was the same size and also there was no bone involvement. None of the other nodes in body were enlarged and doctors told her it could be infection because there was a molar root left, as shown in the OPG, but there was no pain. The OPG report normal, no scar was found in her mouth. The doctor tried to drain it, but there was no pus in the swollen area, only accumulated blood came out in the syringe when the swollen region, along with

enlarged node, was aspirated and the FNSC report said it was chronic inflammation. Then a dentist told her to take Dexona, Zentamycin and Taxim via IV for three days.

The swelling responded well and almost disappeared, except for the enlarged node. Two days after she stopped the antibiotics, the swelling again started to appear and when she went to the dentist, he removed the molar root left behind, which he suspected to be a source of infection and said there was a little pus in the root, The removal caused her jaw to swell again and he advised five days of Dexona, Taxim and Gentamicin and again in two days, the swelling disappeared but the enlarged node persists and she feels very mild pain when she opens her mouth and lower end of the node seems fixed to the jawbone. What can be the cause of the swelling and what's the guarantee that it does not reappear once medicine is stopped? Please help.

anon326888
Post 10

In late February, I was assaulted during a party. A guy punched me in the face around the lower jaw area and blood instantly came from under the lower left canine tooth. I didn't think much of it because the area was not swollen nor painful until three days after the incident.

I went to a dentist and they took X-rays of the area. They said the root of my 22nd tooth was fractured from the injury and referred me to an oral surgeon. When I went to the oral surgeon, they took a panoramic X-ray of my mouth/ jaw and they said from the looks of the X-ray, that the tooth wasn't fractured, but the bone surrounding the tooth was fractured (alveolar bone). They consider the injury to be a green-stick fracture, minor and curable by a soft diet and pain medication.

For two weeks straight, I experienced unbearable pain. I had a clear, sometimes yellow, discharge coming from under the gums of the 22nd tooth. Furthermore, the lower left side of my jaw was swollen badly! During those two weeks I took my medication and had follow up visits to the oral surgeon because I was afraid that the yellowish/ clear discharge was a sign of an oncoming abscess. They told me that since I had a cut around the inner and outer gums of the canine tooth, that food and debris could be getting trapped with the cut and causing the discharge.

From there, the oral surgeon put me on an oral rinse called Peridex and told me to complete the course of my medication. Three weeks after the initial fracture date, the swelling begin to decrease and a soft lump begin to form around the lower part of my jaw/ chin area Also, a bump begin to form behind the 22nd tooth. Both formations are painless unless I irritate it. It hurts to chew on both the 22nd and 21st tooth. When you tap both of those teeth, they are sensitive.

I have tried to burst the pimple like bump behind the tooth, but nothing came out but blood. I applied antiseptic rinse to the area after I popped the bump. Also, I applied hot and cold compresses to the lump on my lower jaw/ chin but nothing seems to relieve the swelling.

I researched possible answers for my symptoms and some of the results I were given were questionable. Being that my jaw is fractured, the lump on my lower jaw/ chin area could be a soft callus which is a part of the bone healing process. My biggest fear is that the lower is enclosed pus that is leading to an abscess.

I really need someone's opinion on this, because all of the doctors I have gone to have given me different diagnosis. If it is an abscess (and I hope it is not), I need to get it taken care of as soon as possible so my adjacent teeth and jaw bone won't become infected. Please help.

anon303042
Post 8

Under my ear it is very tender and sore. It hurts to talk and move my head. I'm going to the doctor in a couple of days to see what this really is.

anon244354
Post 7

My jaw has been swollen for about three years now and no doctor could tell what the problem is.

I had a bunch of tests including an MRI and CT scan, and saw several specialists, but nothing! It doesn't hurt, but it's just freaky to have one side of the face so swollen. I lost my insurance -- not that it helped when I had it.

shell4life
Post 6

I have TMJ, but my case isn't severe enough to warrant surgery. It only flares up now and then, but when it does, it can be really painful.

Every time that I yawn or open my mouth very wide, my jaw pops. This isn't painful, though it might sound like it would be. The pain only comes when the muscles and joints become inflamed and swell.

During this time, it is hard to open my mouth because of the pain. It's a dull ache that throbs through my face, and it's hard to eat during an episode of pain like this.

All I can do is take ibuprofen to ease the inflammation. It helps the swelling subside, and after a few days, I'm back to normal.

wavy58
Post 5

@cloudel – The two types of pain are very different. I have had both, and when the actual jaw is swollen, it hurts much worse.

I once had a sinus infection that made my neck swell right under my jaw line. I could also feel some swelling under my ear. This area was sore to the touch, and it also hurt a little when I turned my head.

When my jaw muscles and joints were swollen, the pain seemed to go all the way to the bone. It can be likened to a tooth ache, and you have to do something to ease the pain, because it is unbearable.

Since you have not yet sought treatment, I am guessing that yours is some sort of infection. If it doesn't go away in about a week, then you might need antibiotics to treat it.

cloudel
Post 4

If you have swelling on the side of your face, how do you tell if it is your actual jaw that is swollen or if you have swollen glands under your jaw? I have noticed some puffiness and soreness in that area, and I'm not sure where it's coming from.

My sister keeps telling me to go to the doctor, but my hope is that I merely have a sinus infection or something that will resolve itself in a few days. It's really sore and uncomfortable, but I hate going to the doctor when it isn't absolutely necessary.

seag47
Post 3

@backdraft – I don't know how you tolerated that for six whole days! I had a swollen jaw on one side after I got hit by a baseball, and I couldn't even wait one day to get treatment.

I got hit on a Sunday afternoon, and I knew that I could have seen a doctor early Monday morning, but it hurt so much that I asked my friend to take me to the emergency room right away. Of course, this cost much more than a regular doctor's visit, but the pain was so great that I didn't care.

Since it was only bruised and not broken, all the doctor could do was give me pain killers, but this was enough for me. He told me to keep an ice pack on it, even once the pain pill kicked in and I didn't hurt anymore, because this would make the swelling go down quicker.

Ivan83
Post 2

I remember I had a swollen jaw for what seemed like forever after I got my wisdom teeth taken out. That was a pretty miserable recovery for a lot of reasons but I think my jaw was the worst part.

It just felt huge and there was a lot of pain. The day after the surgery I could barely move it. I seriously thought there was something wrong for a while. My doctor assured me that it was normal and that I would just have to tough it out. So that's what I did and with time it passed. Thank God you only have to get your wisdom teeth taken out once.

backdraft
Post 1

I had a bike accident recently and ended up with a swollen jaw for almost a week. I lost my balance on some water and ended up going face first into a light post. The right side of my jaw took pretty much all of the impact.

I woke up the next day and my jaw was a lot larger than it is supposed to be. I knew it wasn't broken because I could still move it around it just felt very stiff and swollen.

I don't have heath insurance so I didn't want to go to the doctor. I just iced it whenever I could and tried to eat out of the other side of my mouth. It was annoying but it went away after about 6 days and I don't have and lasting effects.

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