A Guide to Oral Mucocele Cysts

Medically Reviewed By Christine Frank, DDS
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Oral mucoceles are fluid-filled swellings that occur on the lips or in the mouth. Common causes include repeated lip biting, cheek sucking, and mouth injury. Oral mucoceles are usually painless. However, they may interfere with swallowing, chewing, or speaking.

This article explains oral mucoceles in further detail. It also reviews diagnosis of and treatment options for the condition.

What are oral mucoceles?

woman looking at mouth in the mirror
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The mouth has a fluid lining known as the mucus membrane. The role of mucus is to trap and kill harmful bacteria in the mouth.

However, when the mouth suffers a trauma, mucus may leak into surrounding tissues. This results in an accumulation of mucus and, subsequently, the formation of oral mucoceles.

Factors that contribute to mouth trauma include:

  • facial injuries
  • biting the lips repeatedly
  • sucking the cheeks repeatedly 

Read more about injuries here.

What are the symptoms of oral mucoceles?

Oral mucoceles usually appear as bluish, painless swellings. They can develop in many parts of the oral cavity, including:

  • inside the cheeks
  • under the tongue
  • on the floor of the mouth

The sizes of these swellings may vary from one millimeter to a few centimeters. Swellings may grow deep into the skin or remain on the surface.

Deep swellings are usually white in color. On the other hand, surface swellings are typically blue in color and softer.

How long does an oral mucocele last?

According to a 2021 study, oral mucoceles normally last between 3 and 6 weeks before they burst. 

In rare cases, however, they can take between a few days and a few years to improve.

When to contact a doctor

Oral mucoceles are generally not a serious health issue. 

Nonetheless, it helps to have a doctor examine them, particularly when:

  • swellings do not go away after several weeks
  • they make it difficult to speak, swallow, or chew
  • they are painful 
  • the swellings are becoming bigger

Diagnosis

Diagnosing oral mucoceles is usually quite simple.

Your medical professional will look at the appearance of your swellings to see whether they fit the description of mucoceles. They will also ask whether you have suffered a mouth trauma recently.

If your doctor is still unsure, they may perform a test, such as:

  • Biopsy: This analyzes a sample of the swelling to determine whether it is a mucocele.
  • Ultrasound: This uses high frequency sound waves to create images of the insides of mouth swellings.
  • CT scan: This uses X-rays to study the structure and makeup of mouth blisters.

What causes oral mucoceles?

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Mouth injury, lip biting, and cheek sucking are the main causes of oral mucoceles.

However, a number of other factors can also contribute to the formation of mucoceles. These include:

  • Poor oral hygiene: Not flossing and brushing regularly may lead to bacterial growth in the mouth. This can interfere with the work of the salivary glands and make mucoceles form.
  • Lip piercings: Without proper sterilization, a lip piercing may cause an infection. This, in turn, may present an increased risk of developing mucoceles.

Treatments for oral mucoceles

According to the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology (AOCD), oral mucoceles rarely require treatment. 

The swellings usually rupture on their own after some weeks. In a few cases, however, the swellings may fail to improve, making treatment necessary.

In such cases, doctors may perform:

  • Cryotherapy: This uses low temperatures to reduce tissue inflammation and swelling.
  • Laser treatment: This uses focused light to treat skin lesions.
  • Surgery: A medical professional will make small incisions to remove oral mucoceles.

At-home remedies

Rinsing the mouth with warm saltwater several times a day may help shrink oral mucoceles.

That said, try not to bite the mucoceles or force them to rupture. Doing so may make the mouth sore and increase your risk of infection.

What happens if they are left untreated?

In rare cases, oral mucoceles may increase in size if left untreated. 

When this happens, swallowing, chewing, or speaking may become difficult. Make an appointment with your medical professional if mucoceles become a bother. 

Outlook

Oral mucoceles are a common type of oral lesion.

They can develop in people of all ages, but they usually affect younger people. Also, both males and females can get them.

Mucoceles are usually asymptomatic and are quite likely to go away on their own.

Summary

Oral mucoceles are swellings that develop on the lips or in the mouth. They can appear inside the cheeks, under the tongue, or on the floor of the mouth. 

Causes include repeated lip biting, cheek sucking, and mouth injury. Risk factors include lip piercings and poor oral hygiene.

Mucoceles usually improve on their own, typically within 3 to 6 weeks. Therefore, treatment is not always necessary.

However, in rare cases, mucoceles may relapse. In such cases, your medical professional may perform cryotherapy, laser treatment, or surgery.

Rinsing your mouth with warm saltwater may also be a helpful remedy. Make an appointment with your healthcare professional if mucoceles become bothersome. 

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Medical Reviewer: Christine Frank, DDS
Last Review Date: 2022 Apr 25
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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