Overview

Jaw tumors and cysts are relatively rare growths or lesions that develop in the jawbone or the soft tissues in the mouth and face. Jaw tumors and cysts, sometimes called odontogenic tumors and cysts, can vary greatly in size and severity. These growths are usually noncancerous (benign), but they can be aggressive and invade the surrounding bone and tissue and may displace teeth.

Treatment options for jaw tumors and cysts vary, depending on the type of growth or lesion you have, the stage of growth, and your symptoms. Mouth, jaw and face (oral and maxillofacial) surgeons can treat your jaw tumor or cyst usually by surgery, or in some cases, by medical therapy or a combination of surgery and medical therapy.

Symptoms

A tumor is an abnormal growth or mass of tissue. A cyst is a lesion that contains liquid or semisolid material. Examples of jaw tumors and cysts include:

  • Ameloblastoma. This is a relatively common, slow-growing, usually noncancerous (benign) tumor. It develops most often in the jaw near the molars and can invade local structures such as bone and soft tissue. This tumor can recur after treatment; however, aggressive surgical treatments will typically reduce the chance of recurrence.
  • Central giant cell granuloma. Central giant cell granulomas are benign lesions that most often occur in the front portion of the lower jaw. Some of these tumors can grow rapidly, can cause pain and destroy bone, and have a tendency to recur after surgical treatment. The other types are less aggressive and may not have symptoms. Rarely, a tumor may shrink or resolve on its own, but typically these tumors require surgical treatment.
  • Dentigerous cyst. This cyst originates from tissue that surrounds a tooth before it erupts into the mouth. This is the most common form of cyst that affects the jaws. Most often these cysts will occur around wisdom teeth that are not fully erupted, but they can also involve other teeth.
  • Odontogenic keratocyst. Also referred to as keratocystic odontogenic tumor because of its tumorlike tendency to recur after surgical treatment, this slow-growing, benign cyst can be destructive to local structures. Most often the cyst develops in the lower jaw near the third molars. These cysts may also be found in people with an inherited condition called nevoid basal cell carcinoma syndrome.
  • Odontogenic myxoma. This is a rare, slow-growing, benign tumor that occurs most often in the lower jaw. The tumor can be large and aggressively invade the jaw and surrounding tissue and displace teeth. Odontogenic myxomas are known to recur after surgical treatment; however, the chances of tumor recurrence are typically lessened by aggressive surgical treatment.
  • Odontoma. This benign tumor is the most common odontogenic tumor. Odontomas often have no symptoms, but may interfere with tooth development or eruption. Odontomas are made up of dental tissue that grows around a tooth in the jaw. They can resemble an oddly shaped tooth or can be a small or large calcified tumor. These tumors may be part of some genetic syndromes.
  • Other types of cysts and tumors. These include adenomatoid odontogenic tumors, calcifying epithelial odontogenic tumors, ameloblastic fibromas, glandular odontogenic cysts, squamous odontogenic tumors, calcifying odontogenic cysts, cementoblastomas, aneurysmal bone cysts, ossifying fibromas, osteoblastomas and central odontogenic fibromas to name a few.

When to see a doctor

If you're concerned that you may have symptoms of a jaw tumor or cyst, talk with your primary care doctor or dentist. If necessary, he or she can refer you to the proper specialist for diagnosis and treatment.

Causes

Odontogenic jaw tumors and cysts originate from cells and tissues that are involved in normal tooth development. Others tumors that affect the jaws can be nonodontogenic, meaning that they can develop from other tissues within the jaws that are not related to the teeth. Generally, the cause of jaw tumors and cysts is not known; however, some are associated with genetic syndromes.

People with nevoid basal cell carcinoma syndrome, also called Gorlin-Goltz syndrome, lack a gene that suppresses tumors. The genetic mutation that causes the syndrome is inherited. This syndrome results in the development of multiple odontogenic keratocysts within the jaws, multiple basal cell skin cancers and other characteristics.