An ameloblastoma is a rare type of tumor that starts in the jaw, often near the wisdom teeth or molars, but can be found anywhere in the jaw. More often than not, ameloblastomas are benign, but can cause pain and swelling – and can even alter the look of your face. If left untreated for a long period of time, ameloblastomas may become cancerous and spread to your lymph nodes or lungs.
In the U.S., between 300 and 600 cases of ameloblastomas are diagnosed every year. Although anyone can get one of these growths, they’re most often found in adults from ages 30 to 60.
Ameloblastomas usually grow slowly, over many months or even years. In the early stages, the only symptom may be swelling in the back of your jaw – or possibly tooth or jaw pain.
In some cases, there are no symptoms at all and ameloblastomas are found when a dental patient has an imaging scan done for another reason. However, there are cases in which they grow quickly, aggressively and painfully, causing your teeth to uproot and move. Ameloblastomas can also spread to other parts of the face.
Doctors aren’t sure what causes ameloblastomas or why certain people may get them, but certain genes do appear to play a role. It’s also believed that an injury to your jaw or infection in your mouth may raise your risk. Additionally, there is speculation among scientists that some viruses or a lack of protein or minerals in one’s diet may be contributing factors.
Dentists often discover ameloblastomas during routine x-rays. They can also be diagnosed via an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) or a CT (computerized tomography) scan.
Your doctor may want to have a biopsy done in order to confirm that it’s an ameloblastoma and help determine its rate of growth, and recommended treatment.
The recommended treatment for ameloblastomas is surgery. To ensure the tumor cells don’t grow back, Dr. Cohen will remove the tumor and some of the normal tissue and bone around it. Wide surgical margins that are free of the disease are required for a good prognosis. Jaw surgery, including bone grafts to rebuild the bone that was removed, may also be necessary. Teeth which are removed during the surgery may also be replaced with dental implants.
Regular follow-up exams after treatment by Dr. Cohen can address any recurrence of ameloblastomas.