The oral cavity is a specialized environment of soft and hard tissues that is unique and one of the most dynamic regions in the body. It is the only area of the body that houses teeth (and the specialized structures that form teeth), contains bone, blood vessels, nerves, mucosa (the specialized type of skin that lines the oral cavity, nose, and GI tract), salivary glands, taste buds, and muscle tissue. Any of these structures can produce either benign or malignant pathology, as well as produce the signs of many systemic diseases and general health of a patient. Oral and maxillofacial surgeons must be thorough in their examination and knowledge of the types of pathology that can form in the oral cavity.

There are a number of developmental cysts and tumors that are related to the jaws and the specialized organs that lead to the development of teeth (odontogenic cysts and tumors) that are often asymptomatic. Many times these types of pathology are detected by the careful clinical and radiographic (x-ray) examination that is performed routinely by dentists and dental hygienists. These can also be detected by patients because of growth of the jaws, changes in the bite, loosening of teeth, pain in the jaws, or any other number of symptoms that should prompt patients to seek evaluation by a dental specialist. Once there is suspicion of an odontogenic cyst or tumor and after careful clinical and radiographic examination, a biopsy is often performed and sent to a pathologist that specializes in oral diseases. Depending on the diagnosis, the surgeon will review the pathology with their patient and tailor a treatment to their specific needs. The majority of these cysts or tumors are benign and treatment can range from simple removal to more extensive surgeries requiring reconstruction.

Often, people will have different changes that are noticed themselves or by their dentist or physician. These can range from bumps, white spots, growths, or swellings on the gum tissue, cheeks, or lips. Although these things are often benign, they should not be ignored and should be promptly evaluated by surgeons at BMC's office. With the evaluation, a biopsy is often recommend, or close follow-up with the patient with the assistance of the dentist.

The most serious type of oral pathology is oral cancer and because early detection is critical to successful treatment, lesions of the soft tissues of the mouth will often be biopsied. The most common presentation of oral cancer is a red or red-white patch in the mouth, a sore or ulceration that fails to heal, a hard lump in the soft tissues of the mouth or neck, or changes in sensation in the soft tissues of the mouth, lip, chin, or tongue. These lesions are typically not painful but this does not mean that they should be ignored. Patients should perform self-examination monthly and attend routine dental visits for a more thorough examination.

Departments and Programs Who Treat This Condition


Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery

Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery at Boston Medical Center consists of two distinct divisions: Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery and Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology.