• 12 OCT 16
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    Three Issues That Can Cause Jaw Swelling

    Three Issues That Can Cause Jaw SwellingIf your jaw is swollen, it may feel larger than normal or develop a visible lump. The swelling is typically caused by fluid accumulating in the skin above the jaws or inflammation of the jaws themselves. Mild jaw swelling may heal on its own. In the meantime you can reduce the pain with over-the-counter medication and a cold compress.

    However, if the swelling is especially painful, bothersome or long-lasting, contact your dentist right away. After all, the most common issues that cause jaw swelling are tooth-related. Other than swelling following oral surgery or another dental procedure, here’s what could be causing your swollen jaw.

    Jaw Cyst

    Cysts are sacs filled with fluid, air other substance. While they cause uncomfortable jaw swelling, cysts are benign. Anyone can develop a jaw cyst, but risk factors include:

    • Tobacco and alcohol use
    • Poor oral hygiene
    • Irritation caused by poorly fitting dentures
    • Rough surface on the teeth
    • Poor nutrition

    When your dentist works to diagnose the problem, she starts by asking about your medical history. She will thoroughly examine your mouth, jaws and teeth. A CT scan, MRI or biopsy is necessary to get a definitive diagnosis. You may need surgery to remove the cyst.

    Tooth Abscess

    An abscess is a collection of infected material caused by bacterial infection. When it occurs in the tooth, the abscess can cause a severe toothache and swollen jaw. Common causes include:

    • Tooth decay
    • Broken or chipped tooth
    • Openings in the tooth enamel
    • Infection in the root spreading to the bones supporting the tooth

    The infected tooth may look completely normal on the surface, though the gums around it may be swollen and red. Dental x-rays and other tests are needed to pinpoint which tooth (or teeth) is causing the jaw swelling and pain.

    Aside from getting rid of the infection, the goal of treatment is to save the tooth and prevent further complications. You may be able to fight off the infection with antibiotics. Warm saltwater rinses and over-the-counter pain medications help relieve the discomfort. If the antibiotics aren’t enough, you may need a root canal, and if the infection is too severe, you may need to have the tooth extracted.


    When your wisdom teeth only partially erupt through the gum, it allows food particles and bacteria to get caught under the gum flap still covering the tooth. If left untreated, this can irritate the gum and cause an infection to develop called pericoronitis. This results in:

    • Pain
    • Swollen gum tissue
    • “Bad taste” in the mouth
    • Swollen lymph nodes in the neck
    • Difficulty opening the jaw

    To diagnose pericoronitis, your dentist will examine your mouth to see how the wisdom teeth are growing in. An x-ray shows the precise alignment of the wisdom teeth and determines if they are partially erupted.

    If the infection is mild, you may be able to remedy it by rinsing with warm saltwater and ensuring food doesn’t become trapped under the gum flap. If your jaw is swollen and painful, this means the infection has spread and you need antibiotics. You can also take over-the-counter pain medication to alleviate the discomfort until the infection subsides. If pericoronitis recurs, you may need to have surgery to remove the gum flap or extract the wisdom tooth.

    For help figuring out the precise reason for your swollen jaw, please contact Evanson DDS online or call us at (720) 409-0008 to schedule an appointment..

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