Bumps in Your Mouth

From my experience practicing dentistry over many years, I’ve learned that most people have very little idea of structures in their mouth beyond teeth and a tongue. Well, there’s lots going on in there, some of which is normal and some of which can be pathologic.  A tour of this small but busy universe, will reveal the following:

For example, if you check with your tongue behind your two from teeth, there is a bump there, and this is a normal anatomical feature. It is known as the incisive papilla (incisive means in the area of the incisors, the front teeth; papilla is a pad type raised area). This is where there are nerves and blood vessels that exit the skull in this part of the mouth. From an evolutionary standpoint, this area contained smelling nerves in early human forms(olfactory nerves).

The tongue has all sorts of bumps and several different kinds. The largest ones are at the back of the tongue known as circumvallate papillae. These are located in a v-shape in the back of the tongue. Papillae are normal anatomical features of the tongue. They play a large part in tasting food.

There are bony bumps that can be as large as a mushroom in the roof of the mouth , or large areas of additional bone on the tongue side of the lower jaw. This is known as a torus (tori is the plural), and it consists of normal bone tissue that is just extra. It is totally benign and is quite common to see, at least in my patient population. These can become a problem for patients who lose their teeth and need to wear a denture. In this case, a surgeon will remove them prior to the making of the denture.

A common soft tissue bump can occur on the lips or in the mouth known as a mucocele. These occur when the ducts that help to drain the mucus in the lip and cheeks get injured. They are very common and are typically benign. Most of the time they burst on their own and that’s the end of it. If it persists, then a surgeon may have to lance it.

Another type of bump can come from dental infections. If the nerve of a tooth dies, the area around the root of the tooth can get infected causing swelling, usually in that area. The swellings can get extremely large and even life threatening. Treatments for this include root canal therapy (which eliminates the source of the infection and helps the area heal), and tooth extraction. Antibiotic therapy may work to get the swelling down prior to the definitive treatment.

Gum swelling can also be show up. This is usually from a gum infection where there is significant bone loss which can trap food and bacteria and start an infection.

A tooth coming in, particularly a wisdom tooth, can get irritated and also trap food and bacteria. This condition is known as pericoronitis and is quite common in young adults when their wisdom teeth are erupting.   Most typically the treatment is wisdom tooth extraction.

Cancer is another area that can cause bumps in the mouth. There are many types of this disease that manifest in the mouth. As any cancer, these can be very difficult to treat. Early detection and treatment is most important to give the patient the best chance of a full recovery.