Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care

: 2019  |  Volume : 8  |  Issue : 12  |  Page : 3821--3825

Prevalence of oral lesions in tuberculosis: A cross sectional study

Purnendu Rout1, Varsha Modipalle2, Shruthi S Hedge3, Nirav Patel4, Sravani Uppala5, Prajwal K Shetty6,  
1 Department of Oral Medicine and Radiology, Kalinga Institute of Dental Sciences, KIIT University, Bhubaneswar, Orissa, India
2 Department of Pedodontics and Preventive Dentistry, C.K.S Teja Institute of Dental Sciences and Research, Renigunta, Tirupati, Andhra Pradesh, India
3 Department of Oral Medicine and Radiology, Srinivas Institute of Dental Sciences, Mangalore, Karnataka, India
4 Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, Goenka Research Institute of Dental Sciences, Gandhinagar, Gujarat, India
5 Department of Conservative Dentistry and Endodontics, Drs. Sudha and Nageswara Rao Siddhartha Institute of Dental Sciences, Chinaoutpalli, Andhra Pradesh, India
6 Department of Orthodontics, A.B. Shetty Memorial Institute of Dental Sciences, Deralakatte, Mangalore, Karnataka, India

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Prajwal K Shetty
Department of Orthodontics, A.B. Shetty Memorial Institute of Dental Sciences, Deralakatte, Mangalore, Karnataka


Objective: Tuberculosis (Tb) is a fatal infectious disease that primarily affects the pulmonary system and rarely occurs in other body organs including oral cavity. The aim of this study was to report all patients with primary manifestations of oral tuberculosis and to evaluate the clinical characteristics of oral tuberculosis lesions. All these patients were subsequently diagnosed with tuberculosis based on oral histological findings and referred for management and therapy. Materials and Methods: Twelve patients with oral lesions from the year 2010 to 2018 were histologically diagnosed as having tuberculosis, who did not give any history of the disease, following surgical biopsy. Clinical symptoms, auxiliary examinations, treatments, and outcomes were recorded and analyzed. Results: Oral TB was found in all 12 patients; 8 males and 4 females, with male to female ratio 8:4. Involved oral sites included the angle of the mandible (one case), right mandibular molar region (two cases), left mandibular molar region (four cases), gingiva (three cases), buccal mucosa (one case), and the tongue (one case). Oral TB patients in this series ranged in the age group of 6–65 years. All the lesions were suggestive of primary tuberculosis. The appearance of the affected mucosa in oral TB was variable. The most common manifestation was ulceration and swelling of the mucosa. Conclusion: TB should be considered in patients with oral ulcerations and swellings. A biopsy specimen for histological study, acid-fast stains, and cultures should be obtained for confirmation and differential diagnosis along with other conditions.

How to cite this article:
Rout P, Modipalle V, Hedge SS, Patel N, Uppala S, Shetty PK. Prevalence of oral lesions in tuberculosis: A cross sectional study.J Family Med Prim Care 2019;8:3821-3825

How to cite this URL:
Rout P, Modipalle V, Hedge SS, Patel N, Uppala S, Shetty PK. Prevalence of oral lesions in tuberculosis: A cross sectional study. J Family Med Prim Care [serial online] 2019 [cited 2020 Sep 30 ];8:3821-3825
Available from:

Full Text


Tuberculosis (TB) is an infectious granulomatous disease caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis, an acid-fast bacillus, transmitted primarily via respiratory route. Tuberculosis is a global health problem with 8 million people infected annually and 3 million people dying from diseases related to TB complications.[1] Although tuberculosis chiefly affects the pulmonary system, it can also involve extrapulmonary sites including the head and neck region. The host inflammatory reactions play an important role in protection from this disease as well as its pathogens.[2]

In the initial stages of tuberculosis infection, additional macrophages and other immune cells aggregate with the infected cells to form granulomas, the morphology of which is characterized by a central necrotic core surrounded by concentric layers of macrophages, epithelioid cells, multinucleate Langerhans giant cells, and lymphocytes.[3],[4]

A balance between pathogen replication and the immune response is established, and the lesions move into a latent state in most patients. Approximately 5% of otherwise healthy adults will develop into active TB patients within 2 years.[5] Only in certain situations, such as immune dysfunction, does primary TB occur. Secondary TB involves the reactivation of the dormant bacteria and accounts for most cases of TB. In general, TB-infected tissues can be damaged through a variety of mechanisms, including low oxygen tension and restricted nutrient supply.[6]

Oral tuberculosis lesions may be either primary or secondary. Primary oral tuberculosis lesions are extremely rare and generally occur in younger patients associated with cervical lymphadenopathy. The secondary lesions, on the contrary, are more common and are seen mostly in older persons.[7] In the present article, we report 12 cases of tuberculosis diagnosed based on oral lesions. The aim of this study was to report patients with primary oral tuberculosis and to evaluate the clinical characteristics of oral tuberculous lesions, which after diagnosis were referred for appropriate medical management.

If patients with TB are not diagnosed and treated appropriately and in a timely manner, the disease can cause serious damage to the body and can be fatal.[8]

Oral cavity TB is difficult to differentiate from other conditions on the basis of clinical signs and symptoms alone. While evaluating a chronic, indurated ulcer, clinicians should consider both infectious processes such as primary syphilis and deep fungal diseases and noninfectious processes such as chronic traumatic ulcer and squamous cell carcinoma in the list of differential diagnosis.

TB has been diagnosed since the early twentieth century by sputum smear microscopy using Zeil–Neilson or acid-fast bacilli staining. Since the 1970s, the culture of tubercle bacillus using Lowenstein–Jensen medium (LJ) has been used as a gold standard for diagnosis. A decade ago, with the advent of molecular diagnostic aids and complete identification of mycobacterial genome, nucleic acid amplification tests had been performed to diagnose TB with an accuracy of 90%. However, if there is no systemic involvement, one should go for excisional biopsy for tissue diagnosis and bacteriologic examination with culture for a definitive diagnosis. The efficiency of the demonstration of acid-fast bacilli in histological specimens is low, as there is a relative scarcity of tubercle bacilli in oral biopsies.[9]

 Material and Methods

The records of all the patients from the oral pathology department at our institution with a histopathology confirmed diagnosis of oral tuberculosis were surveyed after obtaining the ethical approval form the institutional ethical committee and informed consent form the participants on 12-09-2009. Around 12 cases were identified. Patients with lesions involving the glossal lymph nodes, salivary glands, oropharynx, tonsils, or sinuses were excluded, so were patients with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection or diabetes or who had previously received chemotherapy. The criterion for the diagnosis of oral TB was histopathologic evidence of granulomatous inflammation with epithelioid cells and Langerhans giant cells. The patient's clinical records were reviewed for details related to presenting signs and symptoms, site, and appearance of the lesions. All these patients were treated in the department of oral and maxillofacial surgery.


Clinical data relating to a total of 12 patients with histologically diagnosed TB of the oral cavity is summarized in [Table 1]. Oral TB was found in all 12 patients; 8 males and 4 females, with male to female ratio 8:4. Involved oral sites included the angle of the mandible (one case), right mandibular molar region (two cases), left mandibular molar region (four cases), gingiva (three cases), buccal mucosa (one case), and dorsal surface of the tongue (one case). Oral TB patients in this series ranged in the age group of 6–65 years. The presenting symptoms with oral TB are summarized in an order of frequency in [Table 2]. The duration of these symptoms before diagnosis in the patients with oral TB ranged from 15 days to 4 years. None of the patients complained of malaise, weight loss, or persistent cough. All the lesions were suggestive of primary tuberculosis. The appearance of the affected mucosa in oral TB was variable. The most common manifestations were ulceration and swelling of the mucosa, ranging from 1 cm to 5 cm in size.{Table 1}{Table 2}

Imaging and laboratory examination

Computed tomography (CT) scans were performed in 12 patients but no obvious consistent findings were detected. Some masses had clear borders whereas some had unclear borders; some masses showed bone infiltration, whereas some did not. OPG was performed in patients previously diagnosed with osteomyelitis that revealed a low-density area with an unclear border in the left mandibular ramus No obvious abnormalities were found in routine laboratory examinations and all the patients were found to be HIV negative. None of the 12 patients displayed lowered resistance or increased virulence of the organism.


An excisional biopsy was performed in 11 patients under local anesthesia and the mass was resected, with the patient under general anesthesia and in the remaining patient, who had previously been diagnosed with osteomyelitis, the lesion was curetted. After 11 patients were diagnosed with TB in the oral cavity, through pathologic examination, they underwent a Mantoux test (purified protein derivative test) and carbol-fuchsin-stained M. tuberculosis were detected in those patients. Only one patient had negative results showing typical histopathological features but was still diagnosed with TB.


Although tuberculosis has a definitive affinity for the lungs, it can affect any part of the body including the mouth. Oral manifestations of tuberculosis are usually seen secondary to infection in some other parts of the body, as a result of direct inoculation or, rarely, as a result of hematogenous spread from sites in the pulmonary, gastrointestinal, or genitourinary tract.[10] Compared with tuberculous involvement of the other parts of the body, the primary occurrence of this disease in the oral cavity and jawbones is relatively rare.[11] However, in our study, all the oral tuberculosis lesions were of primary occurrence as they were undiagnosed till then.[12]

When primary lesions of tuberculosis occur in the mouth, the most frequent sites of involvement are gingival, tooth extraction sockets, the tongue, and the buccal folds.[11] In our study, in three cases the lesions were found to be present in the gingiva, six cases were reported on the left and right mandibular molar region in the form of ulceration (two cases) and swelling (four cases), In one case ulcer was present on the buccal mucosa. One case was associated with tooth extraction socket and one case appeared in the form of periapical lesion. Lingual TB may appear as ulcers, nodular swelling, fissures, tuberculomas, or granulomas. The most frequent lesion is a superficial ulcer, characterized by undermined edges, a granulating floor, and occasional small tuberculous nodules around the periphery. The ulcer may be ragged and indurated and is often painful.[13],[14] The systemic factors that favor the chances of oral infection in tuberculosis include lowered host resistance and increased virulence of the organisms. The local predisposing factors may be poor oral hygiene, local trauma, the presence of existing lesions such as leukoplakia, periapical granulomas, dental cysts, dental abscess, jaw fractures, and periodontitis.[14],[15] In our study, two cases showed granulomatous lesion, one case showed periapical lesion, one case was diagnosed through the surgical enucleated specimen of odontogenic keratocyst and three cases were reported with gingivitis.

Sputum smear microscopy, solid culture, and chest radiography are the traditionally considered useful diagnostic methods.[16],[17]

However, these tests are time-consuming and lack enough sensitivity and specificity. In recent years, several diagnostic detection methods based on TB-related molecules in blood or saliva specimens have been reported to be more accurate, with easier, safer, and more uniform sample collection. If possible, a pathologic biopsy of the oral lesion should be performed as early as possible. The characteristic histologic manifestations of TB include a granuloma, consisting of epithelioid histiocytes and multinucleate Langerhans giant cells, with a central necrotic focus that is usually acidophilic and surrounded by lymphocytes [Figure 1]. Some TB granulomas can also be of the hyperplastic type, with a proliferation of fibrous tissue and with no necrotic center. Histologic diagnosis is a reliable method but there is an error rate. Hence, acid-fast staining is necessary.[3],[18] Thus, the combination of acid-fast staining and histopathology can serve a reliable indicator for an accurate diagnosis.[19],[20]{Figure 1}

The common manifestation of oral tuberculosis is an ulcerative lesion of the mucosa. The lesion may be preceded by an opalescent vesicle or nodule which may break down as a result of caseation necrosis to form an ulcer. The typical tuberculous ulcer is an irregular lesion with ragged undermined edges, minimal induration, and often with a yellowish granular base.[10] In our study, four cases were reported with clinical manifestation of tuberculous ulcer.

Involvement of the bones of the maxilla and mandible usually results in tuberculous osteomyelitis. Tuberculosis of the jawbones may be secondary or primary [21]and occurs as a result of either deep extension of gingival lesions, from an infected postextraction socket, or through the hematogenous spread of the infection. The mandible shows a greater predisposition to the infection than the maxilla. In our study, none of the cases involved the bones of maxilla and the mandibular region.

Compared with the previous studies on oral TB, the present study has similar findings such as presentation of oral ulcers and the majority of the patients being males.[22] However, in the previous studies, most of the patients were at the fifth decade of life, our study showed that patients were at the third and second decade of life and some were even less than 10 years of age.[23],[24]

Implications for clinical practice

The primary care physician is the first contact person of the patient for consultation of the illness. Early diagnosis and a multi-disciplinary approach are key components of managing the oral manifestations of TB. Increased awareness and research in this field have facilitated the identification of risk factors and causation pathways. The clinical dental practice has potential for transmission of various infections from patient to dentist, patient to patient as well as a dentist to patient due to close proximity to the nasal and oral cavities of the patient. Thus, a barrier should be created to prevent the transmission of infections and to make the clinical procedures safe from the threat of cross infections. A detailed history of TB should prompt the dental practitioner to discern whether the person is an active case under treatment, the active case without treatment, or previously infected but currently disease-free. The nontreated active cases pose a maximum risk to dental healthcare personnel. Dental healthcare professionals are at constant risk of getting exposed to TB by means of splatter, aerosols, or infected blood. Dental treatment for those with active tuberculosis should be limited to urgent and essential procedures.[25]


With the increasing number of TB cases, unusual forms of the disease in the oral cavity are more likely to occur and be misdiagnosed. Therefore, dental practitioners need to be aware that TB may occur in the oral cavity and consider TB in their differential diagnosis of any ulcerated or granulated and indurated lesions of the oral cavity. This is especially important considering difficult clinical diagnosis because TB can mimic a variety of other conditions including reactive and traumatic lesions, malignant tumors, deep fungal infections, inflammatory gingival enlargements, and oral manifestations of systemic diseases such as sarcoidosis and Wegener's granuloma. Any lesion presenting in the oral cavity must be fully investigated and assessment should include full physical examination, biopsy, and chest X-ray examination. Diagnosis of TB is made by identification of a caseating granuloma, macrophages, epithelioid cells, and Langerhans giant cells in the biopsy specimen. Acid-fast stains and cultures obtained from the tissue specimen should be used to confirm the diagnosis. If tuberculosis is suspected, the patient should be referred to a pulmonary or infectious disease specialist for confirmation of the final diagnosis and treatment.

Financial support and sponsorship


Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.


1Yepes JF, Sullivan J, Pinto A. Tuberculosis: Medical management update. Oral Surg Oral Med Oral Pathol Oral Radiol Endod 2004;98:267-73.
2Lyadova IV. Neutrophils in tuberculosis: Heterogeneity shapes the way? Mediators Inflamm 2017;2017:8619307.
3Volkman HE, Pozos TC, Zheng J, Davis JM, Rawls JF, Ramakrishnan L. Tuberculous granuloma induction via interaction of a bacterial secreted protein with host epithelium. Science 2010;327:466-9.
4Ju W-T, Fu Y, Liu Y, Tan Y-R, Dong M-J, Wang L-Z, et al. Clinical and pathologic analyses of tuberculosis in the oral cavity: Report of 11 cases. Oral Surg Oral Med Oral Pathol Oral Radiol 2018;125:44-51.
5Menzies NA, Wolf E, Connors D, Bellerose M, Sbarra AN, Cohen T, et al. Progression from latent infection to active disease in dynamic tuberculosis transmission models: A systematic review of the validity of modelling assumptions. Lancet Infect Dis 2018;18:e228-38.
6Belton M, Brilha S, Manavaki R, Mauri F, Nijran K, Hong YT, et al. Hypoxia and tissue destruction in pulmonary TB. Thorax 2016;71:1145-53.
7Eng HL, Lu SY, Yang CH, Chen WJ. Oral tuberculosis. Oral Surg Oral Med Oral Pathol Oral Radiol Endod 1996;81:415-20.
8Manjelievskaia J, Erck D, Piracha S, Schrager L. Drug-resistant TB: Deadly, costly and in need of a vaccine. Trans R Soc Trop Med Hyg 2016;110:186-91.
9Naishadham Y, Jogishetty VK, Pacha VB, Balla SB, Vinay BH, Naishadham P. Quantification of Mycobacterium tuberculosis and Mycobacterium avium complex in human immunodeficiency virus-infected individuals with and without tuberculosis. J Oral Maxillofac Pathol 2019;23:236-42.
10McAndrew PG, Adekeye EO, Ajdukiewicz. Miliary tuberculosis presenting with multifocal oral lesions. Brit Med J 1976:1320.
11Ebenezer J, Samuel R, Mathew GC, Koshy S, Chacko RK, Jesudason MV. Primary oral tuberculosis: Report of two cases. Ind J Dent Res; 17:41-4.
12Popescu MR, Plesea IE, Olaru M, Strâmbu IR, Fronie AI, Petrescu IO, et al. Morphological aspects in tuberculosis of oral cavity—Our experience and a review of the literature attempt. Rom J Morphol Embryol 2015;56:967-87.
13Kim SY, Byun JS, Choi JK, Jung JK. A case report of a tongue ulcer presented as the first sign of occult tuberculosis. BMC Oral Health 2019;19:1-5.
14Jain P, Adhikari A, Mandal PK, Minz RS. Tuberculosis of tongue, an enigma: Report of two cases. Chrismed J Health Res 2019;6:117-8.
15Bruce KW. Tuberculosis of alveolar gingival, Oral Surg Oral Med Oral Pathol 1954;7:894-900.
16Lawn SD, Mwaba P, Bates M, Piatek A, Alexander H, Marais BJ, et al. Advances in tuberculosis diagnostics: The Xpert MTB/RIF assay and future prospects for a point-of-care test. Lancet Infect Dis 2013;13:349-61.
17Auld SC, Click ES, Heilig CM, Miramontes R, Cain KP, Bisson GP, et al. Tuberculin skin test result and risk of death among persons with active TB. PLoS One 2013;8:e78779.
18Ehlers S, Schaible UE. The granuloma in tuberculosis: Dynamics of a host-pathogen collusion. Front Immunol 2013;3:411.
19Ryan GJ, Shapiro HM, Lenaerts AJ. Improving acid-fast fluorescent staining for the detection of mycobacteria using a new nucleic acid staining approach. Tuberculosis (Edinb) 2014;94:511-8.
20Han J, Zeng F, Zhou Y. The value of T-SPOT.TB in early diagnosis of tracheobronchial tuberculosis. Sarcoidosis Vasc Diffuse Lung Dis 2016;32:336-41.
21Spilika CJ. Tuberculosis of the mandible- Report of a case. Oral Surg Oral Med Oral Pathol 1995;13:68-70.
22Wang CW, Chen JY, Chen YK, Lin LM. Tuberculosis of head and neck: A review of 20 cases. Oral Surg Oral Med Oral Pathol Oral Radiol Endod 2009;107:381-6.
23Sezer B, Zeytinoglu M, Tuncay U, Unal T. Oral mucosal lesions. A manifestation of previously undiagnosed pulmonary tuberculosis. J Am Dent Ass 2004;134:336-40.
24Dadgarnia M, Baradaranfar MH, Yazdani N, Kouhi A. Oropharyngeal tuberculosis: An unusual presentation. Acta Medica Iranica 2008;46:521-4.
25Jain P, Jain I. Oral manifestations of tuberculosis: Step towards early diagnosis. J Clin Diagn Res 2014;8: ZE18-21.