Oral melanocytic nevi are areas of discoloration on your oral soft tissues. Here are four things you need to know about them.
What are the signs of oral melanocytic nevi?
If you have oral melanocytic nevi, you'll notice brown or black mole-like bumps or patches on the soft tissues inside your mouth. These patches can be distressing if they develop on your gums, lips, or other highly visible tissues.
If the nevi develop on hard-to-see oral tissues like the roof of your mouth, you may not realize that they're there until your dentist discovers them during a routine oral exam.
Are they serious?
These nevi are composed of proliferations of nevus cells, a type of cell that makes melanin and gives your tissues their color. This means that oral melanocytic nevi are essentially the same thing as the moles that you have on your skin. While moles aren't attractive, they're mostly just a cosmetic problem and not a real medical concern.
However, just like moles on your skin, oral melanocytic nevi can sometimes become cancerous. Your dentist may want to take a biopsy of the nevi to make sure that they're not anything serious. Don't be alarmed if your dentist wants to perform this test; it's just a precaution.
Can they be removed?
Oral melanocytic nevi can be surgically removed if their appearance bothers you or if your dentist discovers that they are cancerous. The dentist will carefully excise the nevi with either a scalpel or a laser. If the nevi are cancerous, a margin of healthy tissue from around the moles will also be removed to make sure that all of the cancer cells are gone.
If the nevi were removed from a highly-visible part of your gum tissue, your dentist may need to reconstruct the surgical site. This can be done with gum grafting. During this procedure, tissue will be harvested from the roof of your mouth and sewn onto the area of your gums where the nevi were. After the area heals, the appearance of your gums will be restored.
Are they common?
The reported incidence of oral melanocytic nevi in the United States ranges between 0.1% and 1.15%. Since these lesions are small and easy to miss, they may be underreported.
If you discover mole-like growths on your gums or other oral tissues, make sure to bring them to your dentist's attention. You could have oral melanocytic nevi, an easily-treatable condition.