What Are Mucous Cysts?
A mucous cyst, also known as a mucocele,
is a fluid-filled swelling that occurs on the lip or the mouth.
The cyst develops when the
mouth’s salivary glands become plugged with mucus. Most cysts are on the lower
lip, but they can occur anywhere inside your mouth. They’re usually temporary
and painless. However, cysts can become permanent if they’re not treated.
What Causes Mucous Cysts?
Mucous cysts are most commonly
caused by trauma to the oral cavity, such as:
- lip biting (most common cause)
- cheek biting
- accidental rupture of a salivary gland
- adjacent teeth causing chronic damage
Poor dental hygiene and a habit
of lip or cheek biting due to stress can also put you at higher risk for
developing mucous cysts. Some people develop these cysts as a bad reaction to
Mucous cysts are most common in
people ages 10 to 25. However, these cysts can occur in people of all
ages. They also happen equally in both females and males.
What Are the Symptoms of Mucous Cysts?
The symptoms of a mucous cyst
vary by how deep the cyst lies within the skin and how often the cysts occur.
Most cysts are not painful, but they can be uncomfortable. Frequent cysts can
become painful over time.
Symptoms of cysts near the
surface of the skin include:
- raised swelling
- bluish color
- lesions less than 1 centimeter in diameter
Symptoms of cysts deeper within
the skin include:
- rounded shape
- whitish color
When to See a Doctor
You should see a doctor for any
cyst that appears in or around your mouth. This can help ensure that you
receive a proper diagnosis. It can also help rule out that the cyst is related
to a serious condition. You should also see a doctor if the cyst becomes large
and uncomfortable. Though most mucous cysts are less than 1 centimeter in
diameter, rare cases can result in cysts as large as 3.5 centimeters.
Sometimes smaller, painless cysts aren’t
detected until you go to the dentist. This is especially true of mucous cysts
that develop inside your mouth. Your dentist may refer you to a medical doctor
for a biopsy and other diagnostic tests.
In most cases, a doctor will let
a mucous cyst heal on its own. If the cyst is still there after two months, see
your doctor again.
How Are Mucous Cysts Diagnosed?
Doctors rely on clinical symptoms
for diagnosis. Your doctor may also ask if you have a history of trauma
associated with lip biting. Your answer will help your doctor make an accurate
In certain cases,
a biopsy of the cyst may be needed to make a positive diagnosis.
During this procedure, your doctor will remove a small tissue sample. The
tissue will be examined with a microscope. By looking at the cells, doctors can
decide if the cyst is cancerous or not.
Doctors may require a biopsy in
- the mucous cyst is larger than 2 centimeters
- the cyst’s appearance suggests adenoma (cancer) or
- there is no history of trauma
How Are Mucous Cysts Treated?
Treatment is based upon the
severity of the mucous cyst. Sometimes cysts may not require treatment and will
heal on their own over time. Superficial cysts often resolve on their own. To
prevent infection or tissue damage, do not try to open or remove cysts at home.
Frequent or recurring cysts may require further medical treatment.
Treatments used in mucous cysts
that are not very severe include:
- laser therapy: a small, directed beam of light is used
to remove the cyst
- cryotherapy: the cyst is removed by freezing
- intralesional corticosteroid injection: a steroid is
injected into the cyst to reduce inflammation and speed up healing
To prevent recurrence — or to
treat especially severe cysts — your doctor may recommend surgical removal of
the cyst or even the complete salivary gland.
Mucous cysts can take anywhere
from a week to two years after treatment to heal, depending on the type and
severity of the cyst.
Even after healing, the only way
to ensure a cyst will not come back is to have it surgically removed. Avoid
habits like lip or cheek biting to help prevent future cysts.
Are There Any Home Remedies?
Oftentimes, recovering from a
mucous cyst simply takes time. You should occasionally check the cyst to make
sure it does not become infected, and that it’s not getting any larger. Warm
salt-water rinses may help speed up the healing process.
If you are a regular lip or cheek
biter, you might also consider breaking these types of habits. Keep a journal
and keep track of how often you bite — it is most likely related to stress,
anxiety, or boredom. Once you have identified the triggers, you can try to find
ways to stop biting your lips and cheeks. Chewing on sugarless gum is just one
method you can use to satisfy the urge to bite without harming yourself.
While home remedies might be
helpful in healing some mucous cysts, it’s important that you avoid self-diagnosis.
Your doctor can make sure the bumps aren’t related to something more serious,
such as oral cancer.
What Is the Outlook for a Mucous Cyst?
Once identified and properly
diagnosed, mucous cysts have a good recovery rate. These are benign
(non-cancerous) cysts, so they do not pose any long-term health concerns. The
greatest complications with mucous cysts are pain and discomfort. If you
suspect a mucous cyst in or around your mouth, get it checked out promptly.