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What Does a Bump on the Roof of Your Mouth Mean?

A small, sometimes slightly painful bump on the roof of your mouth is generally harmless and clears up within a week or so. But in rare cases, it might be a sign of a serious condition. So why does the roof of your mouth hurt?

The potential causes of roof-of-the-mouth soreness vary, but the number one question is whether it’ll require medical attention. Read on to find out when the time is right to ask a professional about a bump on the roof of the mouth.

  • Torus palatinus

This is a smooth, hard bump on the roof of your mouth, usually centered on the hard palate, just behind the upper front teeth. According to studies, torus palatinus is more common in women. This painless growth could have been present from birth and is only a cause for concern if it increases in size. If the bump reaches a point where it begins to feel cumbersome, a health care provider or dentist may recommend having it surgically removed. 

  • Canker sores (aphthous ulcers)

These are small, yellow, red, or white spots that develop on the roof of the mouth inside the cheeks or on the tongue. Although painful, canker sores are not contagious. There’s a difference between simple (minor) and complex (major) canker sores. The former come from stress, tissue injury, or eating processed foods that inflame the area. The complex variety, however, could indicate an iron or vitamin deficiency created by unhealthy eating habits. Most canker sores go away on their own in a week or two with good oral hygiene as long as there’s no further injury or irritation. 

  • Cold sores (fever blisters)

These highly contagious, fluid-filled blisters form on or around the lips and can appear in multiple spots on the roof of the mouth. They may cause an itching, burning sensation before they burst, form a crust, and start to heal. Brought on by the herpes simplex virus, cold sores are contagious even when blisters aren’t visible. It’s spread through close contact such as touching, kissing, or oral sex. Symptoms include fevers, headaches, and muscle aches. There’s currently no cure available, but antiviral drugs (e.g., acyclovir creams and tablets) help promote healing, prevent frequent outbreaks, and alleviate certain symptoms. 

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  • ​Epstein pearls (gingival cyst)

Detected in roughly 60 to 85 percent of newborn babies, epstein pearls are small, white or yellowish bumps on the roof of the mouth or along the gum line. As they are harmless and tend to disappear within a week or two, no treatment is required except when they cause pain or irritability. However, it has been suggested that part of the cystic epithelium may remain inactive even in the adult gingiva.

  • Burns

A minor burn from scorching hot food or beverages can damage the thin, sensitive tissue lining the roof of the mouth. A fluid-filled blister develops on the injured area that will eventually shrink and heal itself. For the time being, simply stick to sipping cold drinks, practice good oral hygiene, and avoid eating any hard, crunchy, or irritating foods.

  • Trauma or injury

The delicate mucosal tissue covering the roof of the mouth is susceptible to cuts, bruises, and other wounds that sometimes swell or form a lump. Most minor injuries repair themselves in about a week. Rinsing the mouth with warm water or diluted hydrogen peroxide speeds up the process.

  • Candidiasis (oral thrush)

Also known as oral thrush, candidiasis is a fungal overgrowth that creates white, creamy lesions on the roof of the mouth, inner cheeks, and tongue. They might be accompanied by soreness, redness, bleeding, and difficulty eating or swallowing. This condition is usually seen in babies and adults with compromised immune systems. Individuals with human immuno-deficiency virus (HIV), primary immunodeficiency disorders, or people who take certain medications (such as inhalers for bronchial asthma) are more prone to it. 

  • Squamous papilloma

This is a painless, non-cancerous growth brought on by the human papillomavirus (HPV). A white or pink fleshy mass resembling cauliflower develops on the roof of your mouth or other areas. It progresses slowly and is generally harmless, but can be surgically removed if it becomes an issue.

  • Oral cancer

Though it’s mostly confined to the mouth or lips, in rare cases, oral cancer may attack salivary glands and produce sores on the roof of your mouth. Common symptoms include bleeding sores, sores that don’t heal, thick mucosa, white or red patches, and jaw pain. Treatment depends on its location and stage of development. Tobacco users who notice a lump or sore in the mouth should consult a health care provider as soon as possible. 

  • Other explanations

Swelling on the roof of your mouth is occasionally a sign of electrolyte imbalance and dehydration, perhaps due to alcohol consumption. The mouth may feel dry, sore, and/or swollen. Tonsillitis has also been found to present similar symptoms. 

Treating a bump on the roof of your mouth will depend on the cause. Each case is slightly different and must be handled accordingly. Speed up healing by staying away from soda and other fizzy drinks, as well as spicy, crunchy foods that could worsen the irritation. Rinse with warm water and pay attention to oral hygiene. For temporary pain relief, over-the-counter medications like oral numbing gels may be a good option. 

Consult a health care provider as soon as possible in the following situations:

  • The sores or bumps haven’t healed after two weeks.
  • There is consistent bleeding from the bumps.
  • The bumps make it too painful to swallow, talk, or eat.
  • The bumps change in size or appearance. 
  • There is a serious burn injury in the mouth.
  • Dentures no longer fit properly.

More often than not, soreness or swelling of the mouth is the result of canker sores or minor cuts or burns. They tend to be harmless and recover on their own. But in the case of cold sores, oral thrush, or a bump accompanied by heavy tobacco use, it’s wise to seek medical advice.

“Oral Thrush.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 8 Mar. 2018, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/oral-thrush/symptoms-causes/syc-20353533.

“Cold Sore.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 17 June 2020, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/cold-sore/symptoms-causes/syc-20371017.

Vaduganathan, Muthiah, et al. “Torus Palatinus.” Proceedings (Baylor University. Medical Center), Baylor Health Care System, July 2014, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4059586/.

“Canker Sore.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 3 Apr. 2018, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/canker-sore/symptoms-causes/syc-20370615.

Ortiz, Laura E. Diaz de. “Epstein Pearls.” StatPearls [Internet]., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 1 Oct. 2020, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK493177/.

Babaji, Prashant, et al. “Squamous Papilloma of the Hard Palate.” Indian Journal of Dentistry, Medknow Publications & Media Pvt Ltd, Oct. 2014, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4260387/.

“Dehydration.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 19 Sept. 2019, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/dehydration/symptoms-causes/syc-20354086.

Shah, D S et al. “Prevalence of torus palatinus and torus mandibularis in 1000 patients.” Indian journal of dental research : official publication of Indian Society for Dental Research vol. 3,4 (1992): 107-10.

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