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What is an Oral Cyst?

By Brenda Scott
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A cyst is an abnormal sac which forms in the body and is filled with a gas, liquid or solid substance. An oral cyst is generally filled with liquid, and can form anywhere in the mouth, including the bones, lips, tongue, throat, or salivary glands. These are generally painless and usually less than one inch (2.54 cm) wide. An infected, or abscessed cyst, becomes red, swollen and painful.

The most common kinds of oral cysts are periapical cysts, caused by infections in the pulp of the tooth, and dentigerous cysts, usually formed by impacted wisdom teeth. While these are benign, dentists generally recommend removal to prevent the cyst from spreading and damaging nearby bones or teeth. The removal can usually be done in an office with local anesthesia, though a large cyst may require more extensive surgery to reconstruct any bone which has been displaced or damaged.

It is common for an oral cyst to grow next to a dead root or nerve. If a tooth nerve has died, dentists recommend a root canal, which removes the nerve. During this procedure, the dentist fills in the space formed by the removal of the nerve, which helps to prevent cyst formation.

A cyst which grows in the jawbone is called an ondontogenic cyst. These are usually painless unless infected, and are not noticed until they become large enough to cause a bulge in the jawbone. Dentists generally recommend removing ondontogenic cysts, however, because they tend to grow and can weaken or break the jaw and damage nearby teeth. These can also be removed in a dentist office under a local anesthesia as long as the cyst is not large enough to have caused significant bone damage.

A mucocele, or mucus retention oral cyst, is a common and harmless occurrence. This can be caused by an injury or irritation of the tissue of the mouth, tongue or lips, such as biting the inside of the mouth or tongue, sucking the lip between the teeth, or piercing the tongue or lip. They are generally painless and often rupture spontaneously and heal without treatment. If the cyst is irritating, or if it grows or refuses to rupture, it should be seen by a dentist who can drain or remove it.

An oral cyst is not cancerous; however, it is important to have a dentist examine any cyst which forms and lingers for a period of time to confirm that it is indeed a cyst and not a tumor. Most cysts can be observed visually unless it is located inside of a bone structure, in which case a dental x-ray is required. The dentist may perform a traditional biopsy, which involves removing a small amount of tissue, or a needle biopsy, which uses a needle to extract some of the fluid from the cyst. The tissue or fluid is then sent to a lab to confirm that the structure is indeed a benign cyst.

If the cyst is persistent, uncomfortable, or situated in a place that may cause damage to the teeth or bones, it is highly recommended that it be removed. In the case of a mucus cyst, the dentist will generally try draining the sac and waiting to see if the cyst dissolves on its own. There is a tendency for these cysts to reoccur, so routine check-ups are recommended to monitor the site.

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Discussion Comments

By anon963940 — On Aug 01, 2014

I've had my mouth cyst for two years now. At first it would hurt and bruise but now it's just highly uncomfortable. Anyone know any home remedies or medicine, or should I get it surgically removed?

By Vindaloo — On Apr 11, 2014

I have a mucocele. (I think it's a mucocele judging from the pictures/ descriptions on various internet sites, but was also told it could be a cyst from the doctor at my local walk-in health center.

I have had it for nearly two months now! It doesn't hurt, but is highly uncomfortable.

I want to know if there are any over the counter medications or efficient home treatments for this. I know it might be best to go to a GP, but at the moment I am waiting for an answer to my visa application and hence the health officers told me I cannot receive any treatment until then!

If you know of any way to treat this in the mean time please help!

By anon302707 — On Nov 11, 2012

Simple question: How long approximately does it take the wounded place to heal after a cyst removal? --Macedonia

By scott — On Mar 25, 2011

It does sound positive that they got it all. I would ask your doctor which mouthwash he recommends for daily use and then have frequent checkups so that if it does recur, you can get it before it spreads out to surrounding tissue again.

By anon161004 — On Mar 17, 2011

So if an infected oral cyst has spread to the lymph nodes, and it is removed entirely. Could it recur? I just (today) had a cyst removed that was found after a couple of months of sinus infections, throat and neck pain, headaches, and of course, toothache, with swelling and myriad skin problems in my face following the eventual abscess of the infected tooth.

I attribute it all to that infected cyst. It seemed like all of the nerves in my whole head were just plain inflamed, and getting sick.

Both my dentist and the oral surgeon think it may have caused some bone damage, but the surgeon doesn't seem to think it is cancerous. He was able to remove it in one piece, and I got the idea that was a good sign, but don't want to let my guard down. Any comments?

By pharmchick78 — On Jul 23, 2010

@LittleMan -- Their dentist will check the cysts when they remove them and make sure they are not cancerous.

However, it is important to have oral cancer screenings if you have recurring cysts or problems with your mouth, since many oral cancers are not caught until they have already spread to the lymph nodes, making them much harder to cure.

By LittleMan — On Jul 23, 2010

If a person has oral cysts, how can they make sure they are not at risk for oral cancer?

By EarlyForest — On Jul 23, 2010

There is a type of oral cyst called an odontogenic keratocyst, which is much faster growing, and recurs more frequently than other types of oral cysts.

Although these types of cysts are uncommon, people with basal cell nevus syndrome, a rare genetic disorder, are prone to having them.

Although they can be treated, they are difficult to cure entirely, and often invade surrounding tissue.

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