Possible Causes for Bumps on the Roof of Your Mouth
Finding a bump on the roof of your mouth is not necessarily a cause for concern. In general, you should only be concerned about bumps or lumps in your mouth if:
- They are accompanied with red and white patches
- They last for over two weeks
- They are very painful
- You also have other symptoms like a high fever, vomiting, or other symptoms of illness
There are several possible causes for a bump on the roof of your mouth. It could be:
- Torus palatinus
- Epstein Pearls
- The effect of some kind of trauma
- A sign of oral cancer
Each one is detailed below. Most likely the bump is something benign. However, if you or someone you know has had persistent oral irregularities, you should be seen by a dentist.
Possible Causes for a Bump on the Roof of Your Mouth
Description of Bump
A hard, bony bump, usually less than 2 cm but may grow
A soft, pliable bump, usually 2-10 millimeters in diameter
Small, tooth-like bumps which are white or yellowish in color (may look like pearls or emerging teeth)
Dark, irregular bump or bumps of various sizes which do not go away
Number of Bumps
1 or more
1 or more
1 or more
Duration of Bumps
May persist and may grow with time
Will usually go away without treatment
Will usually go away after several weeks
Will persist (will not go away) and may spread
Maybe, depending on size and irritation
May not hurt
Should I see a doctor?
Yes, if it hurts, grows, or impedes swallowing
Only if it grows, if there is pain, and/or if it persists
No need (but if it persists, bring it up with the doctor)
A Hard Bump on the Palate
Could Be a Torus Palatinus
A torus palatinus is a bony protrusion on the palate (roof) of the mouth. This growth is a normal and usually harmless bony bump that occurs in the middle portion of the hard palate.1 Most palatal tori are less than two cm in diameter, but their size can vary from person to person and change over time. Tori palatinus sometimes increase in size as a person ages.
Some researchers believe that the likelihood of having a torus palatinus is largely inherited, meaning it runs in your family, though others believe they are mostly caused by behavioral and environmental factors. Statistics show that Asians and Native Americans are more likely to have them, and women get them more often than men. External factors that may cause the bump are the frequent grinding of teeth and constant irritation of the palate.
Is It Dangerous?
In and of itself, a palatal tori is no cause for concern, though it might cause some discomfort. In people who have palatal tori, the skin on the palate has increased vulnerability, which makes it easier to damage. The torus also makes it more difficult to fit, place, and remove dentures. In some cases, the enlargement can cause an obstruction in the passageway of food, so eating and drinking can become more difficult. You might also feel pain due to inflammation caused by irritation.
In most cases, the torus will not have to be removed unless it impedes normal function. However, if it gets too big or if it impedes the fitting of dentures, for example, it can be removed through a surgical operation. A maxillary tori reduction surgery is a procedure that involves an incision in the midpalatal region to remove the palatal torus.
A Soft Bump on the Palate
A mucocele is a harmless lump or cyst-like swelling that develops in the mouth, sometimes on the palate (roof) of the mouth.2 It is caused by blocked salivary glands. Normally, saliva drains from the glands to the mouth, but when the ducts are obstructed, saliva gets stuck inside where it pools and creates a bump which is soft and somewhat pliable, pearly or bluish in color, and painless.
An obstructed salivary gland is primarily caused by frequent biting or sucking of the inside of your mouth and may also occur if your face is hit.
Since salivary glands are spread throughout the mouth, mucoceles may appear in different areas of the oral cavity: inside the cheeks, inside the lips, under the tongue, or on the roof of the mouth.
Are They Dangerous?
Generally, small mucoceles do not cause any harm. They are usually soft and range from 2 to 10 millimeters in diameter. Dentists usually do not prescribe anything because mucoceles are painless. However, you might irritate the bump if you knock it or burn it by eating food that's too hot. If this occurs, do not try to drain or prick open the mucocele yourself: consult your dentist immediately.
Mucoceles often go away without treatment. If they don't, possible non-surgical treatments to alleviate swelling include steroid injections and topical medications. If surgery is necessary, dentists and oral surgeons may recommend one of two types of treatment: removal or marsupialization.
The removal of the mucocele may be performed with the use of either laser or surgical incision. Anesthetics may be applied in order to reduce pain.
Some mucoceles may call for marsupialization, where the bump is cut and sutured only at the edges of the incision, leaving the site open so that it can drain freely. This treatment, which helps a new duct form, may be chosen when one single draining would not be enough to drain the mucocele.
If You See Bumps in Your Baby's Mouth
Epstein pearls are common, normal, painless, and harmless cysts that affect approximately 80% of infants.3 Also called palatal or gingival cysts, these nodules are white or yellowish bumps found on the gums or the roof of the mouth. They appear like, and sometimes may be mistaken for, emerging teeth.
Epstein pearls are caused in utero when mucous membranes become trapped during the palate formation.
These nodules do not require any treatment because they are harmless, painless, and usually subside within a few weeks. If the Epstein pearls are still present after several weeks, discuss them with the pediatrician.
Persistent Lumps in Mouth
A bump on the roof of your mouth which does not go away may be a sign of oral cancer, which is the presence of an uncontrollable, malignant outgrowth of cells in the oral cavity. Oral cancer can be life-threatening if not diagnosed and treated early-on.
It can affect the lips, cheeks, palate, tonsils, floor of mouth, sinuses, throat, glands, and/or tongue and is characterized by a couple of different symptoms, one of them being dark, irregular lumps scattered in various areas of the mouth. Most cases begin in the tongue and lips before appearing in other areas and may metastasize elsewhere, most likely the lymph nodes of the neck.4
Symptoms of oral cancer include:
- New or persistent lumps, spots, sores, swellings, or lesions in the mouth, face, or neck
- Red or white speckled patches in the mouth
- Oral bleeding, numbness, or pain
- Throat discomfort, or a feeling as if something is stuck in the throat
- Difficulty swallowing, chewing, or moving the tongue or jaw
- Sore throat, hoarseness, or a change in voice
- Dramatic weight loss
Some risk factors for oral cancer are smoking, use of smokeless tobacco, drinking alcohol to excess, family history of cancer, excessive exposure to ultraviolet light, and HPV infection. Individuals who use tobacco while drinking have increased likelihood of developing oral cancer and if you have a family history of excessive drinking and smoking, you are more likely to develop oral cancer. However, over 25% of oral cancers occur in people who don't smoke and only occasionally drink alcohol. Men are twice as likely as women to develop oral cancer.
The death rate associated with oral cancer is particularly high, not because it is difficult to discover or diagnose but because it is often not discovered until it is too late. Therefore, if you discover that you're having persistent irregularities in your mouth, it is extremely important to see a doctor as soon as possible.
The most common options for oral cancer treatment are surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy to kill the damaged cells. Pain medications are also regularly provided to reduce the side effects of treatment.
Please note also that oral cancer does not usually present with pain in its beginning stages.
Canker sores are small, shallow non-contagious ulcers that develop in the mouth. They often cause discomfort or pain while eating and talking. There are two types of canker sores.
- Simple canker sores — these typically appear three or four times a year. They are felt for about a week and then they disappear. Generally, people between 10 and 20 years of age are affected.
- Complex sores - these are less common. They may develop in people who previously had simple canker sores.
Doctors have yet to discover the exact causes of canker sores.5 It is believed that tissue injury or stress could cause the appearance of simple canker sores. Acidic or citrus fruits and vegetables, like oranges, lemons, pineapples, figs, apples, strawberries, and tomatoes, are believed to trigger the development of canker sores or make the condition worse. Sometimes a dental tool or a sharp tooth surface may cause canker sores. Ill-fitting dentures and braces could also trigger them.
You are also more likely to get them in your teens, as a young adult, if you are a woman, or if you're on your menstrual cycle.
Cases of complex canker sores may be triggered by an underlying health condition, like vitamin deficiency, an impaired immune system, or a gastrointestinal tract infection.
It is highly likely that you may have canker sores when:
- There are painful sores inside the mouth, whether on the roof of the mouth, on the soft palate, on the inside of your cheeks, or on your tongue.
- You feel a burning or tingling sensation prior to the appearance of the sores.
- The sores are round, with a red border, and appear white or gray.
In cases of severe canker sore attacks, you may experience these symptoms:
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Feelings of sluggishness
- High fever
Generally, pain will lessen after a few days and the canker sores will eventually heal after a week or two without any treatment. They can, however, be treated with dental lasers to get complete relief almost immediately.
You should contact your doctor if:
- You have unusually large sores
- If your sores are spreading
- Your sores last for three weeks or longer
- You are in severe pain
- You have difficulty drinking enough fluids
- You have a high fever as well as canker sores
Even though there are no cures for canker sores, there are things you can do to decrease your chances of getting them. For instance, you should avoid foods that cause irritation, like acidic vegetables, citrus foods, and spicy foods. Use only soft-bristled toothbrushes and make sure to floss daily to ensure that there's no food debris left between your teeth.
There are ways to prevent the appearance of canker sores. Here are some simple home remedies from Reader's Digest to try — though these have not been tested by the FDA, some people have found relief by using them.6
- Baking soda will help neutralize the acids in the food that you eat. It also helps kill bacteria and other viruses in the mouth. You simply rinse your mouth using a solution of one tsp baking soda and ½ cup warm water.
- Aloe vera is a good "first-aid plant." Aloe gel helps speed up the healing process and offers soothing pain relief to the sufferer. First dry the area with cotton swab. Cut open a leaf and using a clean spoon, scoop a little of the aloe gel and directly dab on the sore. You can repeat as often as you need to.
- The milk of magnesia is an antacid that can help provide some relief.7 It can be used as a mouth rinse or you can dab directly on the sore using a cotton swab, at least three times a day or as needed. You can also mix one tsp of milk of magnesia with one tsp Benadryl liquid allergy medication.
- Tea can help neutralize the acids that irritate the sore. It can also alleviate pain. Get a tea bag, dampen it, and apply it directly to the canker sore for at least five minutes.
- Sage has compounds that help lessen inflammation. It can also help kill viruses and bacteria. Use sage like a tea. Steep two tsp dried sage in a cup of recently boiled water and cover until ready. Let the sage tea cool first before using it as a mouth rinse. You can use it two to three times daily. Make sure that you swish more briskly in the area of the mouth where you have the canker sores.
- Hydrogen peroxide is a versatile disinfectant. It is an alkaline which helps in neutralizing the acids in the mouth and helps protect the sores from getting infected further. It also provides pain relief and healing. You can use hydrogen peroxide like a mouthwash. Be careful not swallow the liquid. You may also try mixing ¼ c hydrogen peroxide, one tsp baking soda, one tsp salt, and ¼ cup water, use it as a mouthwash as well.
- Licorice tea helps eliminate canker sores. It is available in health specialty stores. You can use one tea bag and steep it in a cup of boiled water. Cover the cup for about 10 minutes before drinking.
- Antacids can help neutralize the acids in your mouth and eventually aid in the healing of the sores. Make sure to check the label for dosage instructions.
- Salt water is a classic rinse to help heal wounds in the mouth. Make a mixture of about 1/2 tsp of salt for one cup of water and rinse your mouth with it, like a mouthwash, for 30 seconds. The high concentration of sodium chloride will draw water from the surrounding tissues to facilitate osmosis. This will help heal open wounds.
- You can also use Vitamin E capsules to help your sores. Cut one open and squeeze out the liquid onto the canker sore. The oil from the vitamin will cover the sore to protect it from infection and facilitate faster healing.
- Experts do recommend taking other vitamin supplements. Amino acid and lysine may help fix the vitamin deficiency associated with canker sores. However, you have to ask your dentists or doctor first to know which dosage to take. Vitamin C may help heal the mucous membranes in your mouth, but you also need to consult your doctor on the dosage because if citrus foods and Vitamin C collide, it may trigger the appearance of more canker sores. Make sure you check with your doctor to see what you need to do.
Cold sores or fever blisters are caused by HSV (Herpes Simplex Virus) Type 1.8 There are two types of the HSV virus: HSV-1 which causes cold sores around and inside the mouth area (herpes labialis), and HSV-2 which causes sores around the genital area (genital herpes).
Sores may appear on any body part, but they are most likely to be prevalent around the in and around the mouth area or on the nose, cheeks, and fingers. The sores may last from seven to 10 days and are contagious.
Two or three days before the appearance of cold sores, you might experience severe itching or a feeling of sensitivity around the area where they are likely to appear. The virus development can be triggered by stress, high fever, severe colds, sunburn, menstruation, allergies, and certain foods.
Symptoms also include pain around the mouth and the lips, sore throat, high fever, and swollen glands around the neck or in other parts of the body. Small children may drool excessively before cold sores manifest.
Once the blisters appear, cold sores will generally break open, releasing clear fluid, crust over, and disappear over the course of a few days or a couple of weeks. For some people, the sores can be painful, while there are others who don't feel any form of symptoms.
The first occurrence of cold sores is often the worst case. After the initial infection, most people develop antibodies to the virus, making recurrent outbreaks milder (or even practically non-existent). Studies show that approximately 40% of American adults experience repeated cold cores.
Cold sores are generally not serious, but there is more concern for patients with HIV-AIDS or those whose immune systems are weak.
You could also have an inflamed and swollen incisive papilla, which are the ridges on the top of your mouth. Causes for this could vary — it could just be some kind of trauma to the roof of your mouth or it could also be an indication of a cystic lesion or a tooth infection.
If the inflammation persists, you should see your doctor.
Smoking cigars or pipes can result in a medical condition called nicotine stomatitis, also called smoker's palate. This is a condition where whitish bumps may develop along the palate. These bumps could also appear reddish at the center.
The only thing to do to prevent these bumps from appearing is to stop smoking. Most smokers, however, don't even notice that they have them, or if they do know, they aren't bothered by them.9
- Hiremath, V.K., A. Husein, and N. Mishra. "Prevalence of torus palatinus and torus mandibularis among Malay population." 2011. Journal of International Society of Preventative and Community Dentistry. Accessed April 10, 2017.
- Wyatt, Alfred D., DMD. "Mucocele: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment." January 20, 2016. WebMD. Accessed April 10, 2017.
- Vorvick, Linda J, MD. "Epstein pearls." January 10, 2016. MedlinePlus. Accessed April 10, 2017.
- Reviewed by Michael Friedman, DDS. "Oral Cancer." February 20, 2017. WebMD. Accessed April 10, 2017.
- Reviewed by Wyatt, Alfred D. Jr., DMD. "Dental Health and Canker Sores." June 10, 2016. WebMD. Accessed April 10, 2017.
- Reader's Digest Editors. "13 Home Remedies for Canker Sores." (n.d.) Reader's Digest. Accessed April 10, 2017.
- "Canker Sores — Topic Overview." (n.d.) WebMD. Accessed April 10, 2017.
- "Cold Sores — Topic Overview." (n.d.) WebMD. Accessed April 10, 2017.
- Keiles, Dana Gelman DMD. "Nicotine Stomatitis." September 23, 2016. Medscape. Accessed April 11, 2017.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.