Ameloblastoma

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.

Overview

What is ameloblastoma?

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.

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Who is affected by ameloblastoma?

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.

Are ameloblastomas cancerous?

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:

  • Metastasizing ameloblastomas. These tumors appear benign but spread from your jaw to other areas of your body including your lungs, your brain and your skin.
  • Ameloblastic carcinoma. These tumors appear cancerous. Sometimes benign ameloblastomas can become cancerous.
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Symptoms and Causes

What are ameloblastoma symptoms?

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.

How does ameloblastoma affect my face and jaw?

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.

How does ameloblastoma affect my teeth?

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:

  • Your teeth feel loose as if you could wiggle them like you wiggled your baby teeth (deciduous teeth) when those teeth were ready to fall out.
  • You notice pink or red spots on your teeth.
  • Your teeth chip and shatter easily.
  • Your gums may look red and swollen.
  • Your lips and/or chin may feel numb.

What causes ameloblastoma?

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:

  • Genetic disorder. There may be a link between changes in your genes and ameloblastoma. This genetic change may be the reason why your cells kept growing.
  • Gum disease or inflammation that affects your gums and doesn’t go away.
  • Viral infections.
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Diagnosis and Tests

How do healthcare providers diagnose ameloblastoma?

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:

  • Additional X-rays of your upper and lower jaw.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). MRI uses a large magnet, radio waves and a computer to produce these detailed images. It does not use X-rays (radiation).
  • Computed tomography (CT) scan. CT scans use a series of X-rays and a computer to create three-dimensional images of your soft tissues and bones.
  • Biopsy. Providers do biopsies to obtain cells, fluids, tissues or growths for examination under a microscope.

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.

What are ameloblastoma sub-types?

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:

  • Conventional ameloblastomas. Conventional ameloblastomas represent 85% of all ameloblastomas. These tumors are likely to spread from your jaw to other nearby areas of your mouth.
  • Unicystic ameloblastoma. These tumors are less likely to spread.
  • Peripheral ameloblastoma. Researchers believe these tumors may have spread to your jaw from your lower gum or soft tissue in your mouth.

Management and Treatment

How do healthcare providers treat ameloblastoma?

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:

  • Whether the type of tumor you have is likely to spread.
  • Whether your tumor is likely to come back after surgery.
  • Your overall health.
  • How different surgeries may affect your quality of life.

What surgery removes ameloblastoma?

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.

What are these surgeries’ complications?

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.

Prevention

How can I reduce my risk of developing ameloblastoma?

Maintaining a healthy mouth and teeth is a good first step toward reducing the risk you may develop ameloblastoma. Here are some suggestions:

  • See your dentist every six months for check-ups and oral cancer screenings.
  • Eat a healthy diet.
  • Take care of any injuries to your mouth or jaw.

Outlook / Prognosis

What can I expect if I have this condition?

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.

Living With

How do I take care of myself?

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.

When should I see my healthcare provider?

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.

When should I go to the emergency room?

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:

  • You have a fever higher than 101° Fahrenheit (38.3° Celsius).
  • You have pain that isn’t helped by the medications your provider prescribed for you.
  • You have more drainage or swelling than you expected.
  • You have shortness of breath or a feeling that you can’t catch your breath.

What questions should I ask my healthcare provider?

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:

  • Why did I develop this tumor?
  • My tumor is benign. Do I still need surgery?
  • My tumor is malignant. Will I need treatment other than surgery?
  • What surgery do you recommend?
  • Why do you recommend that surgery?
  • What are the complications?
  • What are the side effects?
  • Will I need plastic surgery?
  • Can my tumor come back after surgery?
  • Is surgery my only treatment option?

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.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 11/30/2021.

Learn more about our editorial process.

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