Many types of tumors and cysts can form in your jaw. Most types are rare. Tumors are solid masses that can be cancerous or noncancerous. Cysts are sacs that contain liquid or air.

Most tumors or cysts that develop on your jaw aren’t cancerous, but even noncancerous tumors can cause problems, such as:

  • difficulty opening and closing your mouth
  • swelling or pain in your jaw
  • loose teeth

Tumors and cysts that affect your jaw are broadly classified as:

  • Odontogenic: if they originate in cells that are responsible for tooth development
  • Nonodontogenic: if they don’t originate in cells responsible for tooth development

Most cysts or tumors that develop in your jaw have a good outlook if treated properly, but some can be aggressive and cause problems.

Many different types of cysts and tumors can affect your jaw. The World Health Organization (WHO) lists more than 30 types of odontogenic tumors in their International Classification of Diseases 11th Revision.

Here’s a look at some of the more common types of jaw cysts and tumors.

  • Dentigerous cysts: Dentigerous cysts are the most common odontogenic (originating in the teeth) cysts. They form over an unerupted or partially erupted tooth. They most often occur over your wisdom teeth or your upper canines.
  • Odontomas: Odontomas are the most common odontogenic tumors. They’re noncancerous and resemble an abnormally shaped tooth.
  • Ameloblastoma: Ameloblastomas are rare noncancerous odontogenic tumors that usually develop in your jaw near your molars. They’re the second most common type of odontogenic tumor.
  • Ameloblastic carcinoma: Ameloblastic carcinoma is a rare cancerous odontogenic tumor. They make up less than 1% of odontogenic tumors and are closely related to ameloblastoma.
  • Central giant cell granulomas: Central giant cell granulomas are noncancerous but aggressive nonodontogenic tumors. They’re the most common nonodontogenic tumors of the jaw, accounting for 7% of noncancerous jaw tumors.
  • Squamous cell carcinoma: Squamous cell carcinomas make up over 90% of cancers in your mouth and are the most common jaw cancer.
  • Osteosarcoma: Osteosarcoma is a cancerous tumor that makes up more than half of primary bone cancers. They’re the second most common type of jaw cancer.

Tumors and cysts of your jaw can cause many different symptoms that can include:

Here’s a look at some of the specific symptoms of jaw tumors or cysts by type:

Tumor or cyst typeSymptoms
Dentigerous cysts– usually don’t cause symptoms unless the cyst becomes inflamed
– swelling
– tooth sensitivity
– tooth shifting
Odontomas– pain
– swelling
– tooth shifting
Ameloblastoma– usually presents as a slow-growing painless tumor around your lower molars
– large tumors can lead to facial deformity
Ameloblastic carcinoma– often doesn’t cause symptoms
– may cause progressive pain and swelling in your jaw
bleeding gums
Central giant cell granulomas – usually doesn’t cause symptoms in the early stages
– rapidly growing painless swelling
Squamous cell carcinoma– loose teeth
– mouth pain
– difficulty swallowing
– mouth sore that doesn’t heal
– white or reddish patch
Osteosarcoma– swelling
– pain
– ulcers
– numbness
– noticeable mass

This image gallery provides pictures of jaw tumors.

In most cases, the cause of the tumor or cyst isn’t known. Odontogenic tumors and cysts develop from cells involved in tooth development.

Here are some of the known causes and risk factors

Tumor or cyst typeCauses and risk factors
Dentigerous cysts– The exact cause is unknown.
– It’s most common in your 20s and 30s.
Odontomas– possibly trauma to primary teeth
– infections
– genetics
Ameloblastoma– The exact cause is unknown.
– possibly genetic mutations in cells that activate the MAPK pathway
Ameloblastic carcinoma– can arise from ameloblastoma
– a combination of genetic and environmental factors speculated
Central giant cell granulomas – The exact cause is unknown.
– most common in females and people under 20 years old.
Squamous cell carcinoma– associated with precancerous lesions, such as erythroplakia and leukoplakia
Osteosarcoma Risk factors include:
· previous radiation therapy
· Paget’s disease
· inherited syndromes, such as Li-Fraumeni syndrome

Doctors usually start the diagnostic process by reviewing your personal and family medical history as well as performing a physical exam. They may order additional tests, such as:

Surgical removal is the main treatment for many types of jaw tumors and cysts. Depending on the location and extent of your tumor or cyst, you may also need to have teeth removed or receive reconstruction of your jawbone.

Tumor or cyst typeTreatment
Dentigerous cysts– extraction of associated tooth followed by removal of the cyst
Odontomas– surgical removal
Ameloblastoma– usually surgically removed
– jaw reconstruction surgery
– radiation therapy if surgery isn’t an option
Ameloblastic carcinoma– surgical removal
– radiation therapy
– chemotherapy
Central giant cell granulomas almost always cured with surgical removal
Squamous cell carcinoma– surgical removal
– chemotherapy
– radiation therapy
Osteosarcoma – surgical removal
– chemotherapy
– radiation therapy

The outlook for jaw tumors and cysts varies widely depending on what type you have. In general, factors associated with a better outlook include:

  • younger age
  • able to be removed surgically
  • smaller tumor
  • spread to lymph nodes or distant body parts
Tumor or cyst typeSymptoms
Dentigerous cystsexcellent outlook if treated properly with a low recurrence rate
Odontomas– generally good if treated surgically with no reoccurrence reported for up to 20 years
Ameloblastoma– reoccurrence in about 10% to 20% of cases
Ameloblastic carcinoma– 5-year survival rate has been reported as 69.1%
Central giant cell granulomas – can be severely deforming
– reoccurrence rate between 11% and 72%
Squamous cell carcinomahigh risk or recurrence, which is associated with a poor outlook
– A 2019 study reported a 5-year disease-free survival rate of 84.5% when treated with surgery alone.
Osteosarcoma– A small 2019 study reported a 5-year recurrence-free survival rate of 73.6%

Most types of tumors and cysts of your jaw are rare. The majority are noncancerous but can still cause problems if they grow large.

Surgery is used to treat most types of jaw tumors and cysts. If you’re not eligible for surgery, your doctor may recommend alternatives such as radiation therapy.