(See also Overview of Head and Neck Tumors.)
If not initially detected on x-ray, jaw tumors are diagnosed clinically because their growth causes swelling of the face, palate, or alveolar ridge (the part of the jaw supporting the teeth). They can also cause bone tenderness and severe pain.
Bony outgrowths (torus palatinus, torus mandibularis) may develop on the palate or mandible. These are common growths and may prompt concerns about cancer, although they are benign and of concern only if they interfere with dental care or function of the submandibular gland. When on the palate, they are in the midline and have intact, smooth mucosa.
The most common tumor of the mandible and maxilla is squamous cell carcinoma invading the bone through dental sockets. These can involve any portion of the intraoral mandible or maxilla.
Odontoma, the most common odontogenic tumor, affects the dental follicle or the dental tissues and usually appears in the mandibles of young people. Odontomas include fibrous odontomas and cementomas. A clinically absent molar tooth suggests a composite odontoma. Typically, these tumors are excised, particularly when the diagnosis is in doubt.
Ameloblastoma, the most common epithelial odontogenic tumor, usually arises in the posterior mandible. It is slowly invasive and rarely metastatic. On x-ray, it typically appears as multiloculated or soap-bubble radiolucency. Treatment is wide surgical excision and reconstruction if appropriate.