What is a Jaw Cyst?
A cyst is a sac of tissue that has either fluid or soft material inside it. Cysts can grow in different parts of the body, including in the face or mouth. Thus, a jaw cyst is a growth or a lesion of fluid that forms inside the soft tissues underneath the jawbone. They usually form around the roots of your teeth. These cysts are typically benign (non-cancerous).
Jaw cysts can vary in size and severity. They grow gradually, and they can either remain sterile or become infected. Some can grow quite aggressive and can upset the surrounding bone and tissue or displace teeth.
Why do Jaw Cysts Form?
Jaw cysts usually form around dead, buried, or broken teeth. A dead tooth is a tooth that is no longer receiving a fresh supply of blood, usually as a result of infection or trauma. It is usually characterized by a (black or brown) discoloration.
A buried/impacted tooth is a tooth that is barely or partially erupted from the gum. If there is a disruption of normal dental development, the soft cells in the mouth can take advantage of this abnormality and develop into a cyst. Jaw cysts will rarely grow under a healthy, properly aligned tooth.
In rare cases, dental cysts are part of a genetic syndrome that has other symptoms (e.g., Gorlin’s syndrome). Your dentist or surgeon can help you identify the cause of your jaw cyst.
How do I know if I have a Jaw Cyst?
Most jaw cysts can grow very slowly for months or even years undetected. On its own, a cyst is rarely painful. Most of them remain small, so unless it grows dangerously big, you might never tell that you have one.
Many jaw cysts are only detectable when;
- They become infected and form an abscess. This can cause swelling and incredible pain.
- They steadily grow and replace bony tissue in the jaw. This can weaken the jaw leading to damaged or loosened teeth.
- They press again the teeth and other soft tissue impacting the structure of the mouth.
- They disrupt the normal function of the teeth and mouth. This can make it harder to speak, chew, or swallow.
- They press against and damage the nerves in the jaw bone, leading to numbness, sensitivity, or tingling in the gums, teeth, or lips.
Some people only find out about the cysts if they encounter some trauma to the face, and the jaw breaks easily due to the weakening of bones. In some cases, a dentist might need to take an x-ray for unrelated dental issues and coincidentally finds the cysts (they show up as darker areas or ‘holes’ in the x-ray).
How Do I Prevent/Treat a Jaw Cyst?
As stated above, as long as your teeth remain healthy, there is a very minimal chance of cysts forming. However, in the event a tooth dies or remains buried, it is essential to visit your dentist immediately so that they address the nerves and tissues around it to minimize the chances of a cyst forming.
Assuming you already have a cyst, the size, severity, and type of the cyst will inform your dentist or surgeon on the best course of action. As such, treatment can range between extracting some teeth, root canal, and/or minor dental surgery. Usually, the best treatment could include all three procedures. These procedures will simultaneously address the cause of the cyst, support the healing and repair process, and prevent the formation of another cyst.