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What is a Dentigerous Cyst?

By H. Colledge
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A cyst is a hollow lump filled with fluid, and a dentigerous cyst is a cyst which forms around the enamel crown of a tooth that has failed to erupt from the jaw. It is the second most frequently found type of odontogenic cyst, where odontogenic means something which is associated with tooth development. A dentigerous cyst, sometimes known as a follicular cyst, is typically benign, or non-cancerous.

In most cases, a dentigerous cyst causes no symptoms and is commonly discovered by accident on an X-ray. The cysts most often occur singly and around three-quarters are located in the lower jawbone. As they form around unerupted teeth, they are more likely to occur in association with those teeth which often become impacted, such as the wisdom teeth. These types of cysts are almost always found on adult, permanent teeth and very rarely in children. Both men and women may have them, and they are more commonly found in people who are in their twenties and thirties.

A dentigerous cyst is created when fluid builds up inside the developmental sac, or follicle, surrounding an unerupted tooth. The fluid accumulates after the enamel crown has finished forming, and the cyst ends up joined to the tooth at the point where the enamel meets the root. Although this type of cyst is typically small in size, large ones can develop and may cause movement of teeth or disrupt the jaw, possibly even causing a fracture in extreme cases. Occasionally a cyst may become infected. In very rare cases, one may transform into an ameloblastoma, a tumor which, although benign, causes a problem by growing and invading the tissues around it and must be surgically removed.

Although a dentigerous cyst may be recognized on an X-ray, unless it is very small it is usually removed surgically, together with the associated tooth. Even a small cyst is generally monitored for any increase in size. Once the cyst has been extracted, it can be examined microscopically to distinguish it from certain tumors which can mimic its appearance on an X-ray. These include the ameloblastoma and a type of cancer known as squamous cell carcinoma, which can occasionally arise from a dentigerous cyst. Usually, the cyst and tooth can be surgically extracted without any complications, and it is unlikely that the cyst will recur, apart from in rare cases where the removal has been incomplete.

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Discussion Comments
By anon286843 — On Aug 22, 2012

I just had a wisdom tooth removed as well as a dentigerous cyst about the size of a marble. I was unaware of the cyst in there until the oral surgeon did a better xray post surgery. He removed the cyst and sent it to pathology, hence the diagnosis.

I am one week post recovery and the swelling is almost unnoticeable as well as the bruising. The oral surgeon said the trismus that I'm experiencing and being barely able to open my mouth for anything-(even trying to brush my teeth)should subside in the next week or so. He also said the bone should fill back in over the period of 3-6 months.

The pain is only really bad still at night and also if I'm trying to eat something that requires me to open my mouth too much-pretty much anything but soft food. Hope this information helps someone.

By Charlie89 — On Nov 12, 2010

I'm so glad I read this article -- my son has impacted wisdom teeth, and we've been planning on getting them taken out in a few years, but recently he's been complaining a lot of pain and tenderness in the area, and when we look, there is visible swelling.

After reading this, I'm starting to think that he might have a dentigerous cyst -- it sounds like he's got all the symptoms, and especially since the pain is localized to the area of the impacted teeth, that really sounds like what could be going on.

I guess we'll be making that trip to the dentist a little bit earlier...

By yournamehere — On Nov 12, 2010

How would a dentist tell the difference between normal impacted teeth and a periodontal cyst or dentigerous cyst? I know that a lot of times is just comes down to an X-ray, but do those things really look significantly different on an X-ray, or do you have to rely on other symptoms to figure out what's going on?

I would hate to think that the only way to know was through exploratory surgery -- mouth surgery of any kind can be pretty grisly, so I would assume that exploratory surgery would be the last resort.

Do you know how they would make a diagnosis like this, and how you could tell the difference between these conditions?

By rallenwriter — On Nov 12, 2010

I had a friend who had one of those things. She was actually really glad, because when the doctors thought she might have an ameloblastoma of the mandible -- basically a tumor.

Of course, a dentigerous cyst is no walk in the park though. Any kind of mandibular cyst is going to be pretty painful, especially since there are so many nerve endings in your gums and jaw area.

But anyway, she was just glad that it wasn't a mandibular ameloblastoma. After they performed an extraction on the teeth that were causing the problems, she was totally find, and didn't even have a long recovery time. Thank God for that, right?

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