Cheek swelling refers to enlargement or distention of someone’s cheek and/or lump development that results from “accumulation of fluid in the tissues of the cheeks” [healthgrades.com]. The swelling might be mild, severe, with or without pain i.e. with no pain or painful.
Depending on the cause, you could have the swelling on one side (i.e. swollen left or right side), lower or upper part as well as swollen inside area and inside the mouth.
Sometimes you may have a swollen cheek and neck, gums, jaws, eyes, lips, glands, face or near the ear. The swelling might come with other symptoms such as with rash, redness, fever, sore throat, toothache, gum infection or with a sick feeling. It can affect adults as well as children (infants, toddlers or babies).
The symptoms that will accompany the swelling will depend on the underlying cause i.e. disorder, disease or condition.
Some of the most reported symptoms associated symptoms include hives, rash, redness (red appearance), face lumps, oily, itchy or dry skin, soreness, and pain, fever, itchy eyes, sneezing, breathing problems, numbness as well as swelling of other parts of the face including a swollen tongue, eyes or lips.
To be able to effectively diagnose, treat, sooth or reduce the swelling, you need to know the possible causes of this problem. Of course, there are many causes with the most common ones being:
1. Teeth issues
Teeth problem is one of the most common causes of not only swelling on cheeks (on the side of tooth problem) but also a swollen face and cheekbones or jaws.
A toothache, tooth abscess, impacted 3rd molar, tooth decay or tooth infection) are known to cause this problem. Poor oral hygiene (not flossing and brushing twice a day) and eating sugary foods can lead to plaque formation on your teeth.
When bacteria act on the plague layer on your teeth, it feeds on the sugars while it produces acids that will corrode your tooth enable leading to tooth decay.
a). Wisdom tooth problems
One of the most common causes of swelling on cheeks is from is wisdom teeth problems owing to their location. Infections, abscessed tooth, injuries (chipping or breakages) can often result in wisdom teeth cheek swelling.
b). Tooth abscess and cheek abscess
A Swollen cheek from abscess tooth is a possible phenomenon. According to webmd.com, “an abscessed tooth is a painful infection at the root of a tooth (center of the teeth) or between the gum and a tooth” that is commonly caused by a serious tooth decay.
It can also be caused by trauma (such as chipped or broken tooth), gum diseases as well as gingivitis. If ignored tooth dental abscess can cause an opening in enamels that will make bacteria go to the tooth pulp and spread to the tooth root and jaw bone i.e. swollen jaw from abscessed tooth.
Some of the common symptoms of an abscessed tooth include fever, bitter mouth taste, swollen neck glands, gum swelling and redness, swollen lower and upper jaw areas, draining sore on side of gum, sensitivity to cold or hot foods, pain when eating or chewing among others.
In case you have an abscessed tooth, seek medical help from your dentist and try various home remedies we will discuss later to reduce the pain.
A toothache caused by any of the problems mentioned including abscessed teeth, tooth infection or decay can also result in enlargement of cheeks especially on the side that has a tooth problem. Usually, the swelling is accompanied by some pain from the aching tooth.
d). Tooth extraction, removal, and root canal procedures
Dental work such as tooth extraction (i.e., especially wisdom tooth), root canal procedure, and dental cosmetic surgery can lead swellings. The swelling, pain, and discomfort should disappear after a few days.
2. Trauma, piercing swelling, oral surgery or injuries
Another possible cause is injuries, oral surgery or trauma. It is normal to have a swollen cheek and jaw from a punch or being hit by an object, after undergoing the oral surgical procedure, after rhinoplasty, piercing, or due to other traumas or injuries.
The swelling will be accompanied by pain, bleeding, redness and bruising depending on how much your tissues are damaged or hurt.
Usually, the affected area is the one that will swell. It will subside with time. To help reduce the swelling and pain, try various home remedies such as cold compresses or over the counter pain relievers.
3. Mumps infection and swollen parotid glands
At times, “cheek swelling may be related to a condition such as mumps” [healthgrades.com], otherwise known as epidemic parotitis.
Beside possible swelling including in neck area, this viral infection has other symptoms such “a few days of fever, headache, muscle aches, tiredness, and loss of appetite, and is followed by swelling of salivary glands” [cdc.gov] i.e. one or both the parotid glands will be swollen.
Mumps symptoms will occur after 16-18 days of exposure and they might last up to 7-10 days.
4. Allergic reaction
Allergic reaction to food, pet dander, medications, face makeup, and other allergens is a possible cause this problem and extend to places like eyes, nose, face, tongue or lip swelling.
Allergic reactions are often accompanied by other symptoms such as hives, itching, a rash, watery eyes, nasal congestion among others.
5. Lymphadenopathy or swollen lymph node
Sometimes the problem may be due to swollen lymph nodes in front of your ear. You will tend to have swellings near the ears as well as neck. Swollen lymph nodes can be due teeth infection, cancer among other infections.
6. Swollen salivary glands
Your swelling could be due to swollen salivary glands i.e. swollen parotid glands (in case of swelling near the ear or swollen upper part of your cheek), swollen submandibular glands (if you have to swell on your lower cheeks below or lower jaws or near the jawline), or sublingual glands (which are behind your tongue but in front of submandibular glands).
Swollen salivary glands could be caused by a number of bacterial or viral infections that result in swelling and inflammation. The common causes of salivary gland swelling include HIV, mumps, salivary stones, tumor, Sjogren’s syndrome, malnutrition, influenza A, poor hygiene, and dehydration.
Sometimes, when your salivary gland ducts are obstructed by stones or sialolithiasis, you might end up with cheeks that are swollen. This is another cause associated with salivary glands.
On what to do with swollen salivary glands, you need to treat the underlying cause. This means you need a diagnosis before medications or treatment options can be explored since there are many causes of inflamed and/or swollen glands.
7. Swollen cheekbone
Sometimes, your cheek swelling could be as a result of the swollen cheekbone. This can be due to injury (e.g. from a punch), sinus, salivary gland infection, tooth infection, tooth extraction, among other causes. The swelling could be on both sides, one side top or lower jaws and it could be sore and painful or hurt when you lie on the affected side.
8. Bulimia nervosa
This is an “eating disorder characterized by binge eating and purging, or consuming a large amount of food in a short amount of time followed by an attempt to rid oneself of the food consumed (purging)” [Wikipedia.org] mainly through vomiting, excessive exercise, use of the laxative diuretic, since the victim is so much concerned with weight gain.
The uncontrollable rapid eating, gastric reflux after eating tend to erode teeth, cause swollen salivary glands and cheeks according to helpguide.org. Behavioral change, antidepressants, physiological therapies and stress management can help deal with bulimia.
9. Other possible causes
- Cystic acne – cystic acne in this area can cause it swell.
- Boils or skin abscess – These are “localized infection in the skin that begins as a reddened, tender area.” [medicinenet.com] that result in the formation of pus under the skin.
- Skin growth and keloids – keloids are formed from excess scar tissue formation and they are usually painless. Other growths can also cause swelling (and be either painful or without pain).
- Cellulitis – This is a common bacterial skin infection that makes the skin to swell, become red, and feel tender and warm (or hot). Cellulitis on your cheeks can make it swell.
- Sinus swelling – Sometimes, serious sinusitis especially maxillary sinusitis might result in a swelling of cheeks. This will be accompanied by symptoms such as cheekbone pain, tender, swollen and red cheekbone, nasal discharge and fever.
- Side effects of some medication e.g. some people have swollen cheek and gums after novocaine (Novocain).
- Ingrown hairs
- Sebaceous cysts
- Salivary glands, oral or skin cancer
- Hereditary angioedema
- Canker sores on your inner cheek
Where does it occur
You can expect swelling anywhere on your cheek, both the inside or outside. Let us look at a little more on where it can occur.
1. Inside cheek and mouth
Sometimes, it can happen on your inner cheeks. This can be caused by most of the causes we have already mentioned such as tooth problems (decay and infection), canker sores, swollen salivary glands, mouth sores, biting, trauma, infections (bacterial or viral), tooth abscess, lymph node problems (especially the preauricular, submandibular lymph nodes and tonsilar), mumps, among other causes.
Furthermore, various procedures such as tooth feeling, oral surgery, tooth extraction, piercing, among others can also result in swollen cheek inside mouth especially the surrounding tissue.
This problem can affect children (toddlers or babies) as well as adults and it can make the cheeks numb, extend to your jaws, or be near your wisdom teeth (in case of wisdom tooth extraction or infections). Treatment will depend on the underlying cause.
2. Swollen gums too
Swollen gums and cheek could be due to any of the causes mentioned such as infected tooth (tooth abscess or tooth decay), tooth extraction (especially wisdom tooth), after a root canal, blunt trauma, oral cancer, etc.
Furthermore, it can be due to gum problems especially gingivitis, teething syndrome, herpes stomatitis, parulis, periodontal disease, malnutrition, badly fitting dentures, as well as other viral or fungal infections. Pericoronitis (a dental disorder that makes gum tissue around wisdom teeth, to be swollen) has been found to result in swellings.
The swelling between cheek and gum could cause a numbing feeling, be sore and make chewing painful and difficult. To reduce distention from gum infection, try sucking ice (cold compress), use over the counter anti-inflammatory medication, swishing sea salt and water mixture as well as treat the underlying cause (disease or condition).
3. Cheek and jaw swelling
When the swelling extends to your jaws, including jawline or neck area can be caused by any of the causes we have already discussed. It could be accompanied by pain or no pain or cause numbness depending on the underlying cause.
Common causes include blunt trauma, dental works, oral surgery, corrective jaw surgeries, chin surgery, tooth problems, salivary gland infections among others. They could affect both sides and jaws, right or left jaws.
4. Swollen eyes and cheek area
Sometimes the distention can be accompanied with swollen eyes i.e. either right or left side and swollen under eyes or eyelids especially if caused by allergies. However, eye problems such as swollen eyes can also cause swelling on cheeks. Ensure you get the right diagnosis.
In children, this problem can be due to bone fracture, allergic reaction, infection, infected salivary glands, tooth abscess, after teeth filling, some gum infections, mumps among other infections. The swelling might make cheeks red, cause tooth pain, and it could also extend to the jaws and neck depending on the cause.
Swollen with no pain
Not all edemas are accompanied by pain always. It is normal to have a swelling with no pain or with mild or slight pain. Sometimes, cysts, dental abscess, allergic reactions, swelling due to malnutrition, etc. might not cause any pain.
However, in some instances, the distention is accompanied by some pain (red inflamed and swollen cases). In such a case, you need to go for the over the counter anti-inflammatory drugs as well as apply cold compresses to reduce inflammation and swelling.
Treatment option will depend on the underlying cause. In case you do not know it, you should seek medical attention for diagnosis and prescription of the right medications. Common treatments for swelling of cheeks include:
- Drugs and medicines – These might include antibiotics, antivirals, anti-inflammatory (over the counter) or other prescribed medications depending on what is behind your swelling whose intention is to reduce pain and offer swollen tooth infection treatment (if infected)
- Antihistamines – if your swelling is caused by an allergic reaction, you need to use antihistamines and avoid the allergens.
- Home remedies – you can also try a number of home remedies to reduce the enlargement and soothe the swelling.
Fast remedies to reduce swelling
Besides treatments, there are other home treatment or remedies that can help treat mild infections, reduce pain and prevent any further infections especially while the infections are still in their early stages.
1. Cold compress or warm compresses
For mild swelling caused by trauma such as dental work (root canal, tooth extraction, teeth filling, rhinoplasty, oral surgery, piercing, blunt trauma, etc.), you can apply warm or cold compresses.
For a cold compress, the use of ice or cold compress will also cause a numbing effect that will alleviate pain and discomfort. Do not apply ice directly, wrap it in a piece of clean cloth or buy ice packs to avoid tissue damage. Let the compress remain in place for 20 minutes.
2. Applying potato slices
Apply potato slices on the affected area for 15-20 minutes, 2-3 times a day. This will help reduce pain and swelling.
3. Eat soft food, avoid hot beverages and reduce salt intake
Eating crisps or hard foods might exert pressure on your tooth and worsen the swelling. Instead, eat soft foods. Furthermore, do not take hot beverages. Too much salt intake can cause face and swollen cheek
3. Other ways to reduce or get rid of swelling
- Keep good oral hygiene by brushing and flossing your teeth to remove any food particles trapped between your teeth. This will reduce chances of teeth infection or decay that can cause this problem.
- Rinse your mouth with a mixture of warm water and sea salt (1/2 teaspoon in 8 ounces of water).
When to see a doctor
If you have severe and sudden swelling that comes with lip swelling, face or tongue as well as severe breathing difficulties (including labored breathing, wheezing, choking, breath shortness), ensure you see a doctor or seek emergency treatment since such a case may be as a result of a serious allergic reaction that could be life-threatening.
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