There are many causes of a swollen jaw, ranging from infections in the jaw or throat to Lyme disease and thyroid conditions.
A lump or swelling on the face or surrounding area can cause the jaw to seem swollen. Depending on the cause, other symptoms may affect the mouth, neck, or other areas.
This article looks at several possible causes of a swollen jaw and explores their other symptoms and their treatments. It also describes when to consult a doctor.
Some of the many possible causes of a swollen jaw include:
- strep throat
- peritonsillar abscess
- viral infections
- Lyme disease
- jaw cysts
- thyroid nodules
- in rare cases, thyroid cancer
Each of these health issues causes other symptoms, and a range of treatments are available. Below, we look at each in detail.
Tonsillitis is the medical term for inflammation of the tonsils.
The tonsils are two soft pads of tissue that sit at the back of the throat. Their job is to prevent harmful bacteria and other organisms from entering the body through the mouth or nose.
Tonsillitis can cause swelling in the neck, which may extend up to the jaw. Other symptoms may include:
- a sore throat
- difficulty swallowing
- a hoarse voice or an inability to speak
- a cough
- an earache
- a headache
- a fever
Tonsillitis symptoms usually go away on their own within 3–4 days. In the meantime, the following home treatments may help ease the symptoms:
- getting plenty of rest
- drinking plenty of cool fluids
- taking acetaminophen or ibuprofen to ease pain
- sucking throat lozenges
- using anesthetic throat sprays
Tonsillitis that has a bacterial cause may require antibiotic treatment. See a doctor if the symptoms are severe or last longer than 4 days.
Strep throat is an infection of the throat and tonsils. Group A Streptococcus bacteria cause it.
The infection can cause swelling in the lymph nodes of the neck and jaw. Other
- a sore throat
- pain when swallowing
- red, swollen, or pus-streaked tonsils
- small red spots on the roof of the mouth
People may develop other symptoms, such as nausea and vomiting and a fever.
Some people test positive for strep throat but have no symptoms. In this case, the infection is unlikely to pass to others and no treatment is necessary.
Anyone with symptoms and a positive test will need treatment. Doctors will
In some cases, a person may develop an abscess around the tonsils. If the abscess does not respond to antibiotic treatment, a specialist may need to drain it.
A peritonsillar abscess, or a “quinsy,” is filled with pus, and it develops between a tonsil and the wall of the throat.
The same bacteria responsible for strep throat usually cause peritonsillar abscesses. They can also develop as a complication of tonsillitis, particularly in older children, adolescents, and young adults.
An abscess may cause swelling in the face, particularly around the jaw. Some other symptoms may include:
- swollen lymph nodes in the neck
- a sore throat
- a muffled voice
- difficulty swallowing or opening the mouth wide
- a headache
- chills or a fever
A doctor will prescribe oral antibiotics to treat the infection. If it is severe, a person may need IV antibiotics. In this case, the medication enters the bloodstream via an injection into a vein.
In some cases, the abscess might persist despite antibiotic treatment. In these cases, an ear, nose, and throat specialist may need to drain the abscess.
If a person has been unable to eat or drink, they may need IV fluids to prevent or treat dehydration.
Measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) are highly contagious viruses that can all cause swelling in the lymph nodes around the jaw.
These viruses were once common in the United States, particularly in children. However, they are now much
The following table outlines some of the symptoms.
a runny nose
red, watery eyes
swollen salivary glands
a loss of appetite
a sore throat
red, itchy eyes
There are no specific treatments for any of the three illnesses. The table below shows their usual duration.
|Virus||Duration of illness|
|Rubella||1 week or under|
The following home remedies may help ease the symptoms of each infection:
- getting plenty of rest in bed
- drinking plenty of fluids
- taking over-the-counter pain relievers and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
- applying warm or cool compresses to swollen glands
- taking steps to reduce eye discomfort, such as closing the drapes and dimming the lights
These viruses are highly contagious and can spread through tiny sneeze or cough droplets in the air. People should therefore avoid contact with others while symptoms are present.
The best way to avoid these illnesses is to receive an MMR vaccination. This is safe and highly effective at preventing the infections.
Mononucleosis, or “mono,” is another viral infection that can cause swelling of the lymph nodes in the neck and around the jaw. Some other symptoms include:
- a sore throat
- a fever
The Epstein–Barr virus causes
There is no specific treatment for mononucleosis. However, the symptoms tend to go away within 2–4 weeks.
The following home treatments may help relieve the symptoms:
- getting plenty of bed rest
- drinking plenty of fluids
- taking acetaminophen or ibuprofen
Lyme disease is an infection caused by Borrelia bacteria. Ticks carry these bacteria and can transmit them to humans through their bites.
The characteristic symptom of Lyme disease is a circular, target-like rash around a tick bite. The rash usually develops within
As the condition progresses, people may develop additional symptoms. Those that can affect the jaw include:
- pain, stiffness, or swelling of the jaw muscles
- pain in the jaw joint
- limited jaw movement
- popping sounds in the jaw when opening or closing the mouth
- a misaligned bite
Some other potential symptoms of Lyme disease include:
- neck stiffness
- drooping on one side of the face
- bone, joint, and muscle pain
- nerve pain
- heart palpitations
- shortness of breath
Antibiotics are the first line of treatment against Lyme disease. People who begin the treatment in the condition’s early stages
Those with cardiac or neurological symptoms may require IV antibiotics.
Cysts are sacs of tissue that contain fluid or solid material. They can develop anywhere in the body, including inside the jawbone or around the roots of a tooth.
Most jaw cysts result from:
- a decaying tooth
- a broken tooth
- a tooth embedded deep inside the jawbone
As the cyst grows, it may cause the following symptoms:
- numbness or tingling in the lips, gums, or teeth
- loosening of nearby teeth
- weakening of the jawbone
- a lump or swelling in the jaw
Removing a jaw cyst usually requires surgery. The surgeon may also remove any broken, damaged, or embedded teeth that caused the cyst to develop.
Following surgery, antibiotics may be necessary to prevent infection. A person also needs X-rays to show whether the bone is healing correctly.
A thyroid nodule is a lump that develops in the thyroid gland. This is a butterfly-shaped gland at the base of the neck, just below the Adam’s apple and above the breastbone. It produces hormones that have wide-ranging effects throughout the body.
Thyroid nodules are common, and the cause is not usually clear. Two known risk factors include hypothyroidism and an iodine deficiency.
Most thyroid nodules do not cause symptoms. When symptoms do occur, they may include:
- a lump in the neck
- pain or swelling in the neck, jaw, or ear
- a tickling sensation in the throat
Around 90% of thyroid nodules are harmless, but some can be cancerous.
If the thyroid nodule is benign, it may not require treatment. The doctor may recommend follow-up imaging scans to check for any changes in its size or shape.
If the nodule produces too much of a hormone, a doctor may recommend one or more of these treatments:
- drug therapy
- radioactive iodine treatment
Surgery is necessary to remove any thyroid nodule that has cancer cells. According to the American Thyroid Association, most cases of thyroid cancer are curable, and they rarely cause life-threatening complications.
Thyroid cancer can cause swelling of the neck or jaw. Other types of head and neck cancer, including oral cancer, can also cause these symptoms.
Some other symptoms of head and neck cancer include:
- a growth that feels hard or irregular in shape
- a sore that does not heal
- persistent pain in the neck, throat, or ears
- unexplained weight loss
Also, cancer from elsewhere in the body can spread to the lymph nodes in the neck or jaw. This can also cause swelling in these areas.
The treatment options for cancer vary, depending on cancer’s type and severity. Health professionals will want to remove the cancerous growth when possible. Other types of treatment may include radiation therapy or chemotherapy.
See a doctor if swelling in the jaw persists, worsens, or accompanies any of the following:
- symptoms of a bacterial infection
- symptoms of Lyme disease after a tick bite
- symptoms of a jaw cyst
- possible symptoms of cancer, such as a distinct lump in the jaw or neck or a sore that does not heal
- difficulty opening the mouth
- difficulty breathing
There are many possible causes of a swollen jaw. Most are harmless and tend to clear up with minimal or no treatment. However, see a doctor if the swelling persists, worsens, or accompanies other concerning symptoms.
Rarely, a swollen jaw can be a symptom of cancer. Some cancers are highly treatable when a doctor detects the disease in an early stage. A person should see a doctor if they are concerned about any lumps or areas of swelling in or around their jaw.