An ameloblastoma is a very rare and slow-growing tumor that develops in your jaw in the space behind your molar or back teeth. Ameloblastoma are benign but can become malignant. Left untreated, an ameloblastoma can damage your jawbone and other parts of your mouth. Surgery is the most effective way to treat ameloblastomas.
Ameloblastoma is a very rare and slow-growing tumor that develops in your jaw in the space behind your molar or back teeth. Ameloblastomas are benign but can become malignant. Left untreated, ameloblastoma can damage your jawbone and other parts of your mouth. Surgery is the most effective way to treat ameloblastoma.
Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy
Studies estimate that every year 1 in 1 million people is diagnosed with ameloblastoma. About 2 % of those people have malignant ameloblastoma. This condition typically affects people ages 20 to 40.
Ameloblastomas can become cancerous or malignant, but malignant ameloblastomas are extremely rare. Healthcare providers identify malignant ameloblastomas through a process called histology. When providers talk about a tumor’s histology, they’re talking about what they learned after using a microscope to examine its tissue and bone cells. Providers look for differences between normal and abnormal cells. There are two types of malignant ameloblastomas:
Ameloblastomas grow very slowly. You can have an ameloblastoma for 10 to 20 years before you or your healthcare provider notice potential problems. Ameloblastomas can change the shape of your face and jaw or cause problems with your teeth.
You may notice swelling in your upper or lower jaw that happens on one side of your face by not the other. If you see your dentist twice a year, they may find this issue before you develop visible symptoms. Sometimes the tumors grow so large they make it look as if you’ve tucked nuts or small balls between your jaw and cheek. An ameloblastoma may make it hard for you to move your jaw.
Ameloblastoma can cause tooth resorption or re-absorption, which happens when your tumor destroys the roots of your teeth. Tooth resorption can feel like a toothache. Here are some other resorption symptoms:
Ameloblastoma happens when ameloblasts, the cells that create your tooth enamel, keep on growing even after your enamel is in place. Researchers have several theories but haven’t settled on a specific cause. Here are some potential causes researchers are investigating:
Your dentist may spot a potential ameloblastoma while taking X-rays as part of your regular dental check-up. They’ll probably refer you to a specialist for additional tests. Those tests may include:
Radiology studies such as X-rays help providers determine your tumor’s size and whether it has spread. Biopsies help providers identify the tumor’s sub-type so they know how to treat it.
At first glance through a microscope, all ameloblastomas may look like tiny honeycombs or soap bubbles. A more thorough view helps providers to place ameloblastomas in one of three categories or sub-types:
Providers treat this condition by surgically removing your tumor and some nearby tissue. There are different surgical approaches. Your provider considers the following factors when recommending a specific surgery:
Healthcare providers often classify tumor surgeries as being conservative or radical. In conservative surgery, your provider may remove your tumor and a small amount of healthy tissue and bone. In radical surgery, your provider may remove a larger amount of healthy tissue and bone to reduce the chance your tumor may come back. People who have radical surgery to remove their ameloblastomas typically have reconstructive surgery to replace the healthy tissue and bone and reduce any physical differences surgery may cause.
These surgeries all have different side effects and complications. You and your provider will discuss each surgery’s benefits, drawbacks, complications and side effects before deciding on your treatment plan.
Maintaining a healthy mouth and teeth is a good first step toward reducing the risk you may develop ameloblastoma. Here are some suggestions:
Your prognosis or expected outcome depends on your overall health and the kind of surgery done to remove your tumor. You may need additional reconstructive surgery, or you may need additional surgery to remove tumors that come back after surgery.
Most people who have ameloblastoma surgery need support after surgery, such as speech therapy or advice from a nutritionist. Ask your healthcare provider how your surgery will affect your daily life and what help you might need throughout your recovery.
Unfortunately, many ameloblastomas can come back years after your surgery. Your healthcare provider may recommend you have regular checkups once a year for five years.
Your healthcare provider will talk to you about what you can expect as you recover. Generally speaking, you should go to the emergency room if:
Ameloblastoma is a serious medical condition that requires major surgery. Here are some questions you may want to ask as you and your healthcare provider discuss your treatment:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Ameloblastoma is a benign tumor that can damage your jaw and teeth. These tumors can become malignant. They never stop growing, so surgery to remove a tumor is the most effective way to prevent more damage. Some surgeries remove tumors but not healthy bone and tissue, increasing the chance a tumor will come back. Other surgeries remove tumors and more healthy bone and tissue, which may mean additional surgery to replace bone and tissue. Ask your healthcare provider about your options. They’ll share each option’s benefits and drawbacks.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 11/30/2021.
Learn more about our editorial process.