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  • Writer's pictureFayette Williams, DDS, MD

How are jaw tumors diagnosed?

Updated: Aug 30, 2019

Ameloblastomas are similar to other jaw tumors in that they are most often discovered on a routine dental x-ray with no symptoms. Since these are somewhat slow growing, they usually don't cause pain. These tumors can grow quite large before they are detected because they are hidden in the bone under the gums. Some tumors are first discovered by patients if they notice swelling under the gums or around the face.



A panoramic (panorex) xray is often one of the first x-rays used to get an overall view of the jaws. Many surgeons will also use a cone beam CT scan which is available in most oral surgeon's offices these days. This allows viewing of the bones, teeth, and tumor 3-dimensionally to get a better appreciation of the extent of the tumor and other characteristics. After viewing these images, the surgeon can develop a "differential diagnosis" which is a list of possible tumors/cysts.


A biopsy is the next step to determine what type of tumor or cyst we are dealing with, which will ultimately determine the treatment. There are several dozen different cysts and tumors that can occur in the jaw and many are treated differently.


Many surgeons will also use a cone beam CT scan which is available in most oral surgeon's offices these days.

A biopsy involves taking a sample of the lesion and sending it to a pathologist. The pathologist is a doctor who processes the tissue and evaluates it under a microscope to determine the type of tumor. The biopsy can be a delicate procedure for the surgeon to get an accurate and adequate sample of the tissue, so is sometimes done with IV sedation. In cases where the tumor is in a location which cannot be easily reached in an office setting, it might be done in a hospital operating room.


The ameloblastoma is the dark area in the chin

Is there a blood test to diagnose Ameloblastoma?


Unfortunately, no. While blood tests have been developed to provide information about prostate cancer, colon cancer, and others, no blood test exists yet for ameloblastoma. For other tumors, these blood tests are sometimes used to watch for recurrence of the tumor after treatment is complete. This is called Surveillance. For ameloblastoma, the primary method of surveillance is periodic x-rays. Your surgeon will determine how often these x-rays need to be taken. Dr. Williams will often take a new x-ray immediately after surgery to serve as a point of comparison for future x-rays.


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