KidsMD Health Topics

Odontogenic Tumors

  • Overview

    Odontogenic tumors are any kind of abnormal growth in and around the jaw and teeth.

    • Many of these tumors are considered to be benign.
    • In unusual cases, odontogenic tumors are malignant, meaning they are likely to spread.

    In good hands

    If your child has been diagnosed with a malignant odontogenic tumor, we can help. Dana-Farber/Children's Hospital Cancer Center specialists are known for treating children with the most complex cases as well as for their expertise in delivering specialized treatments. They can also integrate care from other pediatric subspecialties at Children's into your child's treatment plan as required.

  • In-Depth

    Are all odontogenic tumors the same?

    There are several types of odontogenic tumors:

    • Epithelial — These tumors consist of abnormal cells in the cells lining the tissue of the mouth and jaw. They grow slowly, but persistently. They rarely spread to other areas of the body.
    • Mesenchymal — These benign, slow-growing tumors usually infiltrate the bone. The soft, pulpy nature of these tumors can make them difficult to remove.
    • Mixed — These tumors consist of several types of cells, often come back after surgical removal, and transform into fast-growing, invasive tumors.
    • The most common, called an odontoma, is most common before age 20 and can prevent new teeth from developing in children.

    What causes odontogenic tumors?

    We don’t really know. Researchers continue to look for the causes of these kinds of tumors.

    What are the symptoms of odontogenic tumors?

    Common symptoms your child may experience include:

    • swelling or pain in the jaw
    • a painless, hard, slowly expanding swelling in the jaw or around the teeth
    • loose teeth
    • a tooth that does not come in

    The symptoms of odontogenic tumors vary widely and may resemble other medical conditions. Always talk to your child's physician for a diagnosis.

  • Tests

    Your child’s doctor will do a complete medical history, as well as a physical exam that includes an examination of your child’s mouth, jaw and teeth. Some or all of these tests may also be prescribed:

    • Computerized tomography scan (also called a CT or CAT scan) — A CT scan shows detailed images of any part of the body, including the bones, muscles and fat.
    • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) — A test that uses a combination of large magnets, radiofrequencies, and a computer to produce detailed images of organs and structures within the body.
    • Biopsy — A sample taken of the primary tumor and/or metastatic lesions.
  • How are odontogenic tumors treated?

    The type of treatment your child will receive depends on many variables, including whether the tumor is benign or malignant.

    Treatment may include: 

    • Surgery — Surgical removal of the tumor is the most common form of treatment. For benign tumors, surgery may be the only therapeutic treatment given.
    • Radiation therapy — This treatment can help stop the growth of abnormal cells in specific areas of the body. Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays (radiation) from a specialized machine to damage or kill abnormal cells.
    • Chemotherapy — This treatment is used in cases of advanced or aggressive tumor growth. This treatment can help stop the growth of abnormal cells throughout the body.
      • Chemotherapy is systemic treatment, meaning it is introduced to the bloodstream and travels throughout the body to kill or slow the growth of targeted cells.
      • Different groups of chemotherapy drugs work in different ways to fight cancer cells and shrink tumors.
      • Often, a combination of chemotherapy drugs is used.
      • Certain chemotherapy drugs may be given in a specific order depending on the type of cancer it is being used to treat.
      • Chemotherapy can be given:
        • as a pill to swallow
        • as an injection into the muscle or fat tissue
        • intravenously (directly to the bloodstream)
        • intrathecally (directly into the spinal column with a needle)
      • While chemotherapy can be quite effective in treating certain cancers, the agents don't completely differentiate normal healthy cells from abnormal cells. Because of this, your child could have adverse side effects during treatment.

    What is the recommended long-term care for children treated for an odontogenic tumor?

    Your child should visit a survivorship clinic every year to:

    • manage disease complications
    • screen for early recurrence of cancer
    • manage late effects of treatment

    A typical follow-up visit may include some or all of the following:

    • a physical exam
    • laboratory testing
    • imaging scans

    Through the David B. Perini, Jr. Quality of Life Clinic at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, childhood cancer survivors receive a comprehensive follow-up evaluation from their cancer care team.

    • Our childhood cancer survivorship clinic is held weekly.
    • In addition to meeting with your pediatric oncologists, your child may see one of our endocrinologists, cardiologists, neurologists, neuro-psychologists or alternative/complementary therapy

    We also offer the following services:

    • patient and family education
    • psychosocial assessment
    • genetic counseling
    • reproductive and fertility evaluation and counseling
    • opportunities to speak with other childhood cancer survivors
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