Tori or Cancer?

By Catherine M. Fascilla, D.D.S.

Tori, plural for torus are benign boney growths found on the inside (tongue side) of the lower jaw or on the palate. When found on the lower jaw or mandible, they are called mandibular tori. They are most often bilateral, on the right and left side. When found on the midline of the palate or roof of the mouth, it is referred to as a maxillary torus or torus palatinus. They can develop at any time, and will on occasion cause serious concern to those patients who are not aware of what they are and who mistake them for oral cancer.

While it is believed to be genetic, the cause of tori growth is not completely understood. They are composed of slow-growing bone and generally pose no problems for the patient. If injured, however, it can be very painful to eat or swallow. They may pose a problem for patients who require dentures and surgical removal may be necessary. They are a hard bump or cluster of smaller bumps, light pink in color that vary in width and elevation but average about 1cm in elevation and 2cm in width or diameter.

Oral cancer is rare. Tori are far more common, found in 7-10% of Americans. Cancer is usually found in soft tissues such as the tongue or cheek. It is most often red in color and asymetrical, meaning it grows on one side of the mouth. Cancer of the lower jaw may cause numbness of the lower lip or hard swelling of the lymph nodes under the angle of the mandible. Tori are painless unless injured, have no lymph node involvement and cause no numbness or tingling of the tongue.

Your dentist has been trained to detect oral cancer. An oral cancer exam should be part of your routine dental exam. If you have any concerns regarding anything unusual in your mouth, your dentist can help you.

Torus Palitinus
A large torus on the palate.

Mandibular Tori
Moderately large tori
on the lower jaw.