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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.
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.
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.
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.
You may also experience other symptoms, such as:
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.
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.
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 of tonsillitis include:
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.
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 may include:
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
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.
Common symptoms of strep throat include:8
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.
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 vary depending on the type of cancer but may include:12
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.
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 may include:13
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.
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 may include:15
Chronic pericoronitis symptoms may include:
Treatment involves removing the tissue flap or wisdom tooth.
Lyme disease is a bacterial infection that spreads through the bite of infected ticks.
Symptoms may include:18
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
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.
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.
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