Ameloblastoma is a rare disorder of the jaw involving abnormal tissue growth. The resulting tumors or cysts are usually not malignant (benign) but the tissue growth may be aggressive in the involved area. On occasion, tissue near the jaws, such as around the sinuses and eye sockets, may become involved as well. The tissues involved are most often those that give rise to the teeth so that ameloblastoma may cause facial distortion. Malignancy is uncommon as are metastases, but they do occur.
The cause of ameloblastoma is not understood. Causes may include injury to the mouth or jaw, infections of the teeth or gums, or inflammation of these same areas. Infections by viruses or lack of protein or minerals in the person’s diet are also suspected of causing the growth or development of these tumors. In general, however, scientists do not understand the cause of cysts and tumors, nor the reasons why they can become malignant.
Ameloblastoma is characterized by an abnormal growth in the sinus area or jaw, often at the site of the third molar. The tumors or cysts may be aggressive and may spread to the nose, eye socket, and skull. It is important for ameloblastoma to be diagnosed and treated early in order to stop the growth of the tumors and possible progression to cancer. Although it is uncommon, ameloblastomas have been known to become malignant and spread to other parts of the body, especially to the lungs. The initial surgical treatment must be carefully and scrupulously done to avoid recurrence.
Ameloblastomas do not usually become malignant. There is evidence that tissue is more likely to become malignant if the condition reoccurs after surgery.
Surgical removal of the affected tissue is the preferred treatment. A wide margin of healthy tissue should be removed from the treated area to keep the chance of tumor regrowth to a minimum. If the tumor does reoccur, surgery is performed again.
If there is a malignant spread of the tumor, radiation is the treatment choice. Chemotherapy is usually not as effective in these cases.
Ameloblastoma can show up either in a regular x-ray or in an MRI imaging study.