June 24, 2024

Waking up with one side of your face swollen around the jawline can be startling. Facial swelling indicates inflammation or trauma and requires prompt attention to determine the cause and proper treatment.

This guide covers common reasons for a one-sided swollen jaw, pain levels to expect, and when to seek urgent medical or dental care.

Swollen Jaw

Sudden Unilateral Jaw Swelling Symptoms

A unilateral swollen jaw means only one side has developed abnormal fluid buildup, inflammation, redness, and possible infection. Besides visible puffiness, other swollen jaw symptoms may include:

  • Radiating pain from the swollen areas – usually a throbbing, pulsing sensation
  • Stiffness, tightness and tension limiting jaw movement
  • Tenderness, soreness when touched
  • Difficulty fully closing the mouth
  • Tooth sensitivity or pain intensifying with swelling

The intensity level of swollen jaw pain often relates to the severity of underlying causes. So mild, moderate or severe discomfort levels give dentists and physicians clues to diagnosing and treating swollen jaw issues appropriately.

What Triggers Half of the Face and Jaw to Abruptly Swell Up?

Many factors can cause a single sided swollen jaw, including:

Tooth Infections

Tooth abscesses, infections at the root tips or advanced tooth decay are common causes of one-sided facial swelling concentrated around the jaw. The swelling results from pus and bacteria pushing through tooth root ends and bone tissues. You’ll usually experience tooth pain before swelling begins.

Dental Injuries

Trauma from facial injury, oral surgery or tooth extractions can fracture bone, tear soft tissues and injure nerves. Swelling often develops during the natural healing process but keeps increasing abnormally with some dental injuries signaling complications.

Blocked Salivary Glands

Saliva draining issues with salivary glands or ducts on one side can back fluid up causing obvious single-sided swelling. Salivary gland infections are also possible. You may notice swelling worsens while eating.

Oral Cancer

A suddenly swollen jaw or neck/face swelling that persists could indicate a lump or tumor. Oral cancers sometimes grow large enough to compress nerves and vital structures. Seek prompt specialty evaluation.


This serious skin infection spreads swelling and redness rapidly through face and neck regions potentially blocking airways requiring hospitalization if left untreated.

When to Seek Emergency Dental Care for a Swollen Jaw

While home remedies like cold compresses, OTC pain relievers and saltwater rinses may temporarily reduce mild jaw swelling, worsening or severe swelling should be urgently assessed by a dentist or physician.

Seek emergency medical attention if you experience:

  • Difficulty breathing, swallowing or opening your jaw
  • Severe throbbing pain unrelieved by medication
  • Dense swelling spreading toward the neck and facial midline
  • Swelling accompanied by high fever, chills and feeling ill
  • Pus discharge from swollen gum areas
  • One-sided facial numbness or uncontrolled muscle movements
  • Swelling lasting longer than a few days without improvement

Why Does Jaw Swelling Only Occur on One Side?

  • Tooth Infections– Cavities and tooth decay allow bacteria to invade the tooth pulp and root canals first before spreading to surrounding bone tissues often on one side first.
  • Abscesses – Pus pockets of infection form at the root tips of some teeth, especially molars and premolars, resulting in initial one-sided facial swelling before infection spreads.
  • Blocked Salivary Glands– Salivary glands and their draining ducts can become blocked by salivary stones, tumorous growths or infection which backs up saliva output only on that side leading to obvious unilateral swelling.
  • Injuries – Trauma from sports collisions, vehicle accidents, falls or oral surgery can fracture facial bones, sever arteries, damage nerves and tear muscles or tissues only on the directly injured side.
  • Oral Cancers – Benign cysts or malignant tumors arising in the gums, floor of mouth, cheeks or tongue usually cause site-specific, one-sided swelling when near the jawline and mouth initially.
  • Cellulitis– This rapidly spreading skin infection originates typically on one side of the face or neck after scratches or bites get infected before possibly spreading swelling across midline facial structures if neglected.
  • Referral Pain– Dental issues like impacted wisdom teeth, TMJ joint disorders and trigeminal neuralgia can radiate pain to different areas of the face including unilateral jaw and cheek swelling from inflammation side effects.

Pinpointing exactly why one side of the jaw swells requires a full dental exam, potential imaging tests and diagnosis from an oral health professional. Some combination of infection, obstruction and inflammation causes fluids and blood to leak out of small vessels into surrounding tissues manifesting as sudden asymmetric facial swelling. Seeking prompt treatment is key to avoiding escalation into further complications.

Treating the Underlying Cause of Unilateral Jaw Swelling

Without treatment of the origin, swollen jaw symptoms won’t fully subside on their own. The necessary treatment depends on what diagnosis testing reveals.

Tooth infections require antibiotics and dental root canals or tooth extraction for complete relief and to prevent the spread of bacteria. Traumatic dental injuries may involve repositioning displaced teeth, stitching tore gum tissues and allowing natural healing supported by medication.

Blocked salivary glands need imaging tests to pinpoint obstructions and may require surgical removal of stones or stents placed to keep narrow ducts open. Benign cysts or malignant growths also must be dealt with through biopsy and tumor removal procedures to halt swelling compression.

The sooner you receive appropriate diagnosis and care, the lower the risks of unchecked swelling leading to airway constriction, systemic illness or craniofacial deformity. Practicing good oral hygiene and getting regular dental exams helps catch problems early.

See Your Dentist Urgently for Sudden Unilateral Jaw Swelling

Don’t take chances with unexplained facial swelling which could progress quickly. Contact our friendly staff at Emergency Dentist London Pro to schedule an urgent dental exam and advanced 3D imaging to determine what’s causing your swollen jaw on one side. We’ll explain treatment options and work closely with medical teams if hospitalization is necessary. With rapid, collaborative care, we can get discomfort relieved, function restored and your smile confident again!

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