Dentistry
Cosmetic
Product Reviews
Updated on October 18, 2022

Swollen Jaw Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

NewMouth is reader supported. We may earn a commission if you purchase something using one of our links. Advertising Disclosure.

Why Do I Have Swelling Around My Jaws or Neck?

The human jaw is an integral part of the body. It has many functions, including chewing and speaking. The jaw is connected to the skull and can be affected by diseases, trauma, and other serious health conditions.

8 Potential Causes of Swelling in the Jaw and Neck

There are several causes of swelling in the jaw and surrounding areas. It’s important to recognize your symptoms to determine whether the cause is severe. 

1. Viral infections

Viral infections, such as those that cause mononucleosis or the flu, often cause lymph nodes in the neck to swell.1 If you experience these swollen glands, a virus could be causing them.

Symptoms 

You may also experience other symptoms, such as:

  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Sore throat

If you have these symptoms and swollen lymph nodes that don't improve after a few days, speak to your doctor. They will check that the infection is not something more severe like an abscess.

Treatment

Antibiotics do not work for viral infections. Antiviral medications, however, help the body fight off harmful viruses by easing symptoms and shortening the length of an infection.

2. Tonsillitis

Tonsillitis is an inflammation of the tonsils. The tonsils are two small, oval-shaped organs at the back of the throat. They help fight infection in the mouth and throat. Bacteria usually cause tonsilitis.2

Symptoms

Symptoms of tonsillitis include:

  • Sore throat
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the neck
  • Difficulty swallowing food or drink (dysphagia)
  • Ear pain (otalgia)
  • Bad breath (halitosis)
  • Nausea and vomiting

Treatment

Healthcare providers usually prescribe antibiotics to prevent the bacterial infection from spreading. Surgeons may need to remove your tonsils if they become severely infected, or if your tonsils keep getting re-infected.

3. Thyroid Nodules

The thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped organ in the neck, just below the larynx. It produces hormones that help regulate metabolism and control how quickly the body uses energy. The thyroid gland also makes hormones that affect the body's sensitivity to other hormones.

Thyroid nodules are small lumps that form on the thyroid gland. They can be cancerous or benign (not cancerous). Most thyroid nodules are benign.6

Symptoms

Symptoms may include:

  • A lump in the neck
  • A tickling sensation in the throat
  • Ear pain
  • Neck pain

Treatment

Benign nodules can be treated with medication or surgery if they cause discomfort or other problems. Malignant nodules must be treated with surgery, radiation therapy, and/or chemotherapy.7

4. Strep Throat

Streptococcal pharyngitis, also known as strep throat, is a bacterial infection caused by group A beta-hemolytic streptococcus bacteria that results in tonsil swelling. 

The infection usually starts with a sore throat and a fever and can impact surrounding areas, like the jaw. Left untreated, it can lead to complications such as rheumatic fever and kidney damage.

Symptoms

Common symptoms of strep throat include:8

  • Fever
  • Pain when swallowing
  • Swollen tonsils, sometimes with pus or white patches
  • Tiny, red spots on the roof of the mouth (petechiae)

Treatment

The most common treatment for this condition is antibiotics. Doctors typically prescribe penicillin or amoxicillin to treat the infection.9 It is important to finish the entire course of antibiotics to prevent the infection from returning.

5. Cancer

Approximately 1.2% of people will be diagnosed with cancer of the oral cavity and/or pharynx at some point in their life.10

Oral cancer usually starts in the cells lining the inside of the mouth and throat. It can also affect parts of the voice box, tonsils, and other nearby tissues.

Oral cancer is typically caused by tobacco or alcohol abuse, but it can also be caused by human papillomavirus (HPV) infection and certain types of herpes virus infections.11

Other types of cancer that may cause swelling in the head and neck area include throat and thyroid cancer. If cancer from other areas spreads to the lymph nodes, the lymph nodes can also become swollen. 

Symptoms

Symptoms vary depending on the type of cancer but may include:12

  • Red or white patches
  • Pain, tenderness, or numbness in the mouth or lips
  • A sore or irritation that doesn't go away
  • A lump, rough spot, crust, or small sore area that doesn't go away
  • Difficulty moving the tongue or jaw while chewing, swallowing, or speaking

Treatment

First, a doctor will conduct a physical examination. They may order X-rays or other imaging tests to identify the location and size of the tumor.

Oral cancer treatment depends on the location, size, and whether it has spread to lymph nodes or other parts of the body. Treatment can include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, or a combination.

6. Tooth Abscess

A tooth abscess results from bacteria entering your tooth and creating a pocket of pus, which can cause swelling around your gums. This can be attributed to gum disease, broken teeth, trauma or injury to the teeth, and big cavities. 

Symptoms

Symptoms may include:13

  • Fever
  • Intense, throbbing tooth pain
  • Pain that radiates outwards toward the ear, jaw, and neck
  • Red and swollen gums

Treatment

Abscessed teeth are a serious condition. If left untreated, the infection can spread to the surrounding areas, including the jawbone and surrounding teeth and soft tissues. If you suspect you have an abscessed tooth, visit a dentist as soon as possible.

Treatment involves draining the abscess of pus and administering antibiotics.

7. Pericoronitis

Pericoronitis is a condition that arises when the gum tissue surrounding a newly erupting tooth becomes inflamed. This condition commonly occurs when wisdom teeth come in, specifically when the teeth do not have enough room to erupt from the gums.14

The condition can lead to extensive damage to the teeth, jaw, and mouth if left untreated.

Symptoms

Symptoms may include:15

  • Redness or swelling of the gums
  • Pus or drainage
  • Fever
  • Severe pain around the back teeth
  • Pain when swallowing
  • Difficulty opening your mouth 

Chronic pericoronitis symptoms may include:

  • Temporary achiness around the back teeth
  • A bad taste
  • Bad breath (halitosis)

Treatment

Treatment involves removing the tissue flap or wisdom tooth.

8. Lyme Disease

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection that spreads through the bite of infected ticks.

Symptoms

Symptoms may include:18

  • A characteristic "bulls-eye" rash at the site of the tick bite
  • Flu-like illness
  • Fever
  • Muscle aches
  • Joint pain
  • Swelling or redness

Treatment

A short course of oral antibiotics, such as doxycycline or amoxicillin, cures most cases of early Lyme disease.19 For more complicated cases, Lyme disease is usually successfully treated with additional antibiotics.20

Can Jaw Swelling Cause Complications?

A common complication associated with jaw swelling is difficulty swallowing or breathing.21 This can lead to choking and aspiration pneumonia if the person cannot clear the food from the throat.

When to Seek Medical Help

If you are experiencing pain in your jaw, swollen gums, or difficulty chewing, consult a dentist or doctor. If you have a fever or if the pain worsens over time, seek medical attention as soon as possible.

In some cases, an infection in the mouth may cause swelling. Antibiotics or a simple dental procedure can usually treat this. However, you may need surgery if you experience severe pain and swelling that does not go away after 2 weeks of treatment.

If you have additional symptoms with a swollen jaw, speak to a doctor rather than a dentist.

Amazon Black Friday Deals

The best time to buy new water flossers, electric toothbrushes, and tons of other dental products is now.

Summary

Jaw and neck swelling can be symptoms of many conditions, such as an infection, injury, or inflammation. Certain medications may also cause swelling in these areas.

Speak to your doctor or dentist if you experience other symptoms or they don’t resolve themselves after a few days.

21 Sources Cited
Last updated on October 18, 2022
All NewMouth content is medically reviewed and fact-checked by a licensed dentist or orthodontist to ensure the information is factual, current, and relevant.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only cite from current scientific research, such as scholarly articles, dentistry textbooks, government agencies, and medical journals. This also includes information provided by the American Dental Association (ADA), the American Association of Orthodontics (AAO), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
  1. Mayo Clinic. “Mononucleosis,” 2020.
  2. Mayo Clinic. “Tonsillitis,” 2022.
  3. Cleveland Clinic. “Swollen Lymph Nodes,” 2022.
  4. Mayo Clinic. “Swollen lymph nodes: symptoms and causes,” 2021.
  5. Mayo Clinic. “Swollen lymph nodes: diagnosis and treatment,” 2021.
  6. American Thyroid Association. “Thyroid Nodules,” n.d.
  7. American Cancer Society. “Treatment of Thyroid Cancer, by Type and Stage,” 2021.
  8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Strep Throat: All You Need to Know,” 2022.
  9. Cleveland Clinic. “Strep Throat,” 2019.
  10. National Cancer Institute. “Cancer Stat Facts: Oral Cavity and Pharynx Cancer,” n.d.
  11. American Cancer Society. “Risk Factors for Oral Cavity and Oropharyngeal Cancers,” 2021.
  12. American Dental Association. “Oral Cancer,” n.d.
  13. American Dental Association. “Abscess (Toothache),” n.d.
  14. Kwon, Gloria, et al. “Pericoronitis” StatPearls, 2022.
  15. Cleveland Clinic. “Pericoronitis,” 2022.
  16. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Symptoms of ME/CFS,” 2021.
  17. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Treatment of ME/CFS,” 2021.
  18. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Signs and Symptoms of Untreated Lyme Disease,” 2021.
  19. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Erythema migrans rash,” 2022.
  20. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “Lyme Disease Antibiotic Treatment Research,” 2018.
  21. Health Direct. “Toothache and swelling,” 2022.
linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram