Swollen Cheeks: 4 Proven Causes Why It Happens

swollen cheeks

Last Updated on: 20th May 2024, 01:34 pm

The cheeks are the skin, muscle, and fat located on the sides of the face. They ensure that food does not come out of the mouth during chewing. Swollen cheeks are easily noticeable since they produce a visual change in facial aesthetics, in addition to the fact that the patient will perceive a sensation of increased volume in the area.

It’s natural for cheek swelling to be a cause of concern. This alteration can be caused by a wide variety of reasons; and for each of them, a different treatment is indicated. Information about swelling of the cheeks and what to do will be expanded below.


Common Causes of Swollen Cheeks

swollen cheeks
swollen cheeks

There are many possible causes of puffy cheeks. Undoubtedly, it is essential to know with certainty the specific origin of this condition so it can be treated successfully. In brief, here are the most frequent causes of swollen cheeks:

1. Dental abscess

A dental abscess is one of the most frequent reasons for the need to consult with a dentist; in fact, it may be an emergency. This happens when an infection originating in the nerve of the tooth or the surrounding tissues progresses until it produces an accumulation of pus in the cheek area. It usually appears as fluctuating and soft on only one side of the face. It can also be caused by tooth decay, gum disease, or wisdom teeth eruption.

2. Facial cellulite 

This condition is produced by an infection of the skin and other facial tissues. It can originate in the teeth or their supporting tissues, but it can also be generated by pimples or skin wounds that allow bacteria to enter. It presents as severe swelling accompanied by redness, heat, and intense pain. It usually has a hard consistency and is located on one side of the face only. In advanced cases, it could cause closure of the eye or obstruction of the respiratory tract, so if it is not treated in time, it could be fatal.

3. Facial injury

After suffering a blow or trauma to the face, it is normal for swelling and redness to appear in the area; bruising may appear days after the event. You can check our guide right here which will help you decide whether the injury you acquired is considered a dental emergency.

4. Salivary gland infection

In the cheeks are the parotids, or the largest salivary glands. Under normal conditions they are imperceptible, but they could become inflamed due to an infection. Two types of infection could occur:

    • Bacteria (sialadenitis):  This occurs when the channels that carry saliva to the mouth are blocked by a calculus (small stones) or when the glands produce too little saliva.
    • Viral (parotitis or mumps): As a contagious disease caused by a virus, it affects the whole body, but one of the most noticeable manifestations is inflammation of the parotid glands. It is more common during childhood and can be prevented with the MMR vaccine (MMR). It also causes headaches, loss of appetite, and fever among other symptoms. It requires care to avoid complications.
    • Angioedema: It presents as a swelling, which, although it can occur anywhere on the body, most commonly affects the face. This condition is generated by an allergic reaction to medications or other substances, known as “allergens”. It usually happens in a matter of minutes and is usually painless.
    • Hypothyroidism: The thyroid is a gland located in the neck. It is responsible for secreting hormones that regulate the rhythm of various body functions. When the gland fails, it can cause multiple symptoms, including facial swelling. In such cases, the face swells on both sides, and there is no pain. 
    • Cysts or tumors: Although it is not a frequent condition, masses or cysts may appear in the area of ​​the jaws and inside the mouth, which will be noticed in the increased size of the cheeks. It may or may not present pain. In many cases, if these are not treated in time, they could cause the total or partial loss of the jaw, and even be fatal. You should also make sure to mention this to your dentist since cysts or tumors are one of the signs of mouth cancer.


Can Swollen Cheeks be Treated at Home?

Because swelling in the cheeks can be caused by many factors and some of them could be serious, it is always necessary to go to the doctor for tests to determine the origin of the swelling and the appropriate treatment.

swollen cheeks treatment
swollen cheeks treatment

If there is pain and a sensation of heat in the area of ​​the swelling, the patient can apply cold water cloths while seeking medical or dental attention.


When to Seek Medical or Dental Care for Swollen Cheeks?

Whenever swollen cheeks occur and are not caused by a blow or facial injury, professional attention should be sought, especially if it is accompanied by pain, redness, tenderness, or general discomfort.

To determine the cause of this condition, the doctor or dentist will perform a physical examination, which may be accompanied by other studies such as X-rays, computed tomography, resonances, and blood tests, among others.

When to seek emergency treatment?

A person with swollen cheeks should seek emergency medical treatment when:

    • The swelling increases rapidly.
    • The swelling causes closure of the eye or obstruction of the airway.
    • The patient presents general malaise: chills, fever, dehydration, discouragement, and loss of appetite.
    • Difficulty breathing.



    • If the treating professional determines that the swelling is the product of an infection, he or she could prescribe antibiotics, which must be taken in their entirety, strictly following the indicated schedule, to guarantee effectiveness.
    • Although in all cases the swelling of the face can be a delicate situation, in children, the inflammation generated by infections can progress even faster and be even more dangerous.
    • It is not appropriate to take antibiotics without a prescription for the following reasons:
      • Each infection requires a specific antibiotic for the type of bacteria that caused it.
      • In very advanced stages, antibiotics taken orally may not be effective and the patient may require intravenous administration.
      • The antibiotic must be carefully chosen by the treating professional, taking into account the other medications the patient takes or the allergies presented.
    • No bacterial infection originating in the teeth is resolved only by taking antibiotics. They only constitute a source of support for full treatment, so it will always be necessary to remove the cause of the infection such as performing a root canal treatment, draining the abscess, and extracting the affection tooth, among other treatments.
    • The success of these treatments is usually greater when carried out on time. Therefore, when presenting swollen cheeks, it is advisable to go to the doctor as soon as possible to treat the condition in its initial phase.



Swelling in the cheeks can be caused by multiple causes, some more serious than others. If a patient presents this symptom, it is advisable to see a dental or medical professional to determine the cause and appropriate treatment. Some of the causes could be life-threatening infections or diseases, so it is important to be aware of the above warning signs and seek emergency care if necessary.


Contact us

If you have any questions about this or other topics, you can contact us at Channel Islands Family Dental as well as our page on Facebook. We look forward to your visit and we will make a timely diagnosis. Our dentists in Oxnard, Santa Paula, Ventura, Newbury Park, and Port Hueneme will be able to guide you toward the best treatment to take care of your health and give you back your best smile.



  1. Higuera, V. (Mar 19, 2019).What’s Causing My Cheek to Swell and How Do I Treat it? Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/swollen-cheek
  2. Leonard, J. (Oct 15, 2018). What can cause facial swelling? https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323342 
  3. Mumps: Causes, Symptoms & Treatments. (Sep 28, 2022.). Cleveland Clinic.https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/15007-mumps
  4. Agrawal, A., Singh, V., Kumar, P., Bhagol, A., Narwal, A., & Singh, I. (Jul 8, 2017). Unilateral swelling of the cheek. National journal of maxillofacial surgery, 8(2), 157–161. https://doi.org/10.4103/0975-5950.221703
  5. Anaphylaxis | Causes, Symptoms & Treatment. (Abr 14, 2022). ACAAI Public Website.https://acaai.org/allergies/sym
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