Why Is My Jaw Swollen?

Man with jaw pain and swelling.

Jaw pain and swelling can be quite uncomfortable; after all, you use your jaw a lot throughout the day. But it can also be very concerning.

What are some common causes of jaw swelling, and what can they mean for your overall health?

What Makes Up Your Jaw?

Your jaw comprises a large portion of the lower half of your facial structure. The mandible bone is the bottom part of your jaw, and it holds the lower set of your teeth and includes your chin. This is the piece of your jaw that hinges to move up and down for chewing and speaking. The maxilla is the upper jaw that supports the top row of teeth and nose. The temporomandibular joints connect the two and allow the jaw to move. Tendons and muscles hold it all together and are responsible for the movement of the jaw.

Causes of Jaw Swelling

The jaw is a complex and important piece of your anatomy, so when you feel pain or swelling in your jaw, you want to pay attention.

Injury

An injury to the face or neck can cause your jaw to become swollen, as can having a recent tooth extraction. If you suffered a trauma to the area, you might have other accompanying symptoms such as bruising or pain. In the case of severe pain or difficulty opening and closing your mouth, seek emergency care as a broken or dislocated jaw is serious.

Tooth Abscess

A tooth abscess can cause significant tooth pain which can radiate into your jaw. An abscess is caused by an infection within the soft tissue inside your tooth or gums. The space will become filled with pus, and pressure and swelling will cause pain. You may also experience a fever. A tooth abscess can be very dangerous if left untreated. If you suspect you have a tooth abscess seek dental treatment immediately.

Jaw Cyst

A cyst can develop anywhere on the body, including the jaw. Cysts can result from abnormal tissue growth, trauma, infection, or around a piece of a tooth that has broken off or been embedded in the jaw. You may be able to feel a cyst as a lump on your jaw.

Most cysts are benign and asymptomatic, but occasionally they can be painful, become infected, or even cause loose teeth as they grow. If you experience any of these problems, schedule an appointment to investigate.

Temporomandibular Disorders

TMD (sometimes referred to as TMJ) affects the joint that connects the jaw bones. Pain, swelling, clicking, and headaches are all symptoms of TMD, although there are several potential causes, including tooth grinding, arthritis, stress, and jaw misalignment. While TMD is not usually an emergency, there are treatment options available.

Viral or Bacterial Infection

Viral or bacterial infections that cause illness can result in swollen lymph nodes, inflamed tonsils, a sore throat, and painful swallowing. Common infections that affect the throat and jaw include:

Viral infections are often accompanied by other symptoms such as cold and flu symptoms, fever, fatigue, headache, and muscle aches. Most viral infections will go away on their own, but if your symptoms persist or are accompanied by a high fever, rash (especially a bulls-eye-shaped rash), or severe headache, you may want to see your doctor.

Thyroid Disease or Cancer

The thyroid is a gland that sits in the neck, below the jaw. If nodules form on the thyroid due to hypothyroidism, iodine deficiency, or thyroid cancer, they can cause swelling in the jaw. While most thyroid nodules are not cancerous, some may be. In addition, other oral and neck cancers can cause swelling of the jaw. If you experience a lump in your neck, pain that does not go away, or unexplained fatigue or weight loss, see your doctor.

When to Get Help

A swollen jaw that results from a minor illness, injury, or dental procedure like having your tooth pulled will typically get better quickly on its own. If you have difficulty opening or closing your mouth, swallowing, or have a high fever or toothache along with a swollen jaw, make an appointment with our office right away.

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