If your physician says you have an ameloblastoma, what does that mean? Read on to learn more about this odontogenic tumor.
What Is It?
Ameloblastomas are odontogenic tumors. "Odontogenic" means the tumor arises from the normal tissues found in the mouth. This rare tumor was first identified in 1827, according to the European Archives of Oto-Rhino-Laryngology. Although predominantly located in the lower jaw, also known as the mandible, the tumor can also occur in the upper jaw or maxilla. It can sometimes be found in the soft tissues surrounding the jaw. In the lower jaw, the posterior regions are mostly affected. The tumor may be associated with impacted third molars.
There is no known etiology for this tumor. Although it is usually benign, the tumor can be malignant. Even when benign, the tumor is extremely aggressive and destructive. It tends to affect people between 30 and 60 years old, but also occurs less commonly in older and younger individuals.
Symptoms and Diagnosis
An ameloblastoma is generally painless. Swelling in the area is often the only symptom. It is usually only identified through radiographic examination in a dental office. The early developing lesion does not displace teeth or cause numbness; accordingly, the patient may not know there is a tumor growing in one of the jaw bones. If a potential lesion is identified on a dental X-ray, more elaborate imaging may be required. This could include a CAT scan and possibly an MRI. However, the diagnosis may require more than imaging: a biopsy is often necessary to make the final diagnosis. Cysts sometimes have a similar appearance to ameloblastomas on imaging.
Even when benign, this particular odontogenic tumor can have a high rate of recurrence and cause additional destruction, including by creating a metastatic lesion to areas like the lungs. In rare incidences, the recurrence may be fatal. Radiation treatment and chemotherapy are not typically successful in eradicating this tumor.
Make an appointment with your doctor to discuss treatment. Aggressive surgery is usually the only treatment that will successfully remove the lesion and prevent recurrence. The procedure requires removing the healthy bone surrounding the tumor so that no tumor cells are left behind to enable its regrowth. As the surgery is usually performed aggressively, teeth will be extracted and the extensive reconstruction of hard and soft tissue through plastic surgery may be necessary. Following the surgery, the upper jaw may present an opening into the sinuses that requires the patient to wear a special denture known as an obturator.
To keep your oral and overall health in good condition, visit your dentist and physician regularly for oral cancer evaluation. In addition, keep a watchful eye when brushing your teeth twice daily. If you or your health care provider spot any abnormalities, be sure to begin treatment before the problem develops into a serious condition.