What’s An Odontoma, And What’s It Doing In Your Child’s Mouth?

When a child's adult teeth don't appear as expected, dentists will often recommend giving your child a little more time. There's some predictability when it comes to the eruption of permanent teeth, but everyone's a little different, so it may not be immediately evident if a tooth has been delayed or is entirely absent. When the complete absence of a tooth becomes a mystery, your child's dentist will perform some diagnostic tests (such as a radiograph). It's perfectly understandable to be surprised (and unsettled) when your child's dentist tells you that instead of a tooth waiting to emerge, your child in fact has a benign tumor. 

Tooth Tissues Without a Tooth

An odontoma is a benign (non-cancerous) growth that can sometimes be found where a tooth was expected. It's located in the jaw and is technically a type of severely malformed tooth. It contains the necessary tissues to form a tooth, but these tissues have compressed together to form a mass instead of a fully-formed, functional adult tooth.

Mysterious Causes

Although an odontoma can easily be identified, its causes may remain a mystery. The growth (and failure of the tooth to develop) can be due to a genetic abnormality or dental trauma earlier in life; however, this isn't always entirely clear. While it contains the necessary components to make a tooth, it's not as though the odontoma will magically alter its structure and become a tooth. It needs to be removed.

Straightforward Removal

The removal of an odontoma is straightforward when compared to other benign growths. Incisions will be made around the margins of the growth, and it will then be extracted intact. As far as benign growths go, odontomas are relatively self-contained, which simplifies the extraction, as the growth can be removed without disturbing the underlying jaw. 

Gap Management

After removal, your child will be left with a permanent gap in their dental arch. This will be temporarily managed until a permanent solution is practical. Your child might be a candidate for a flipper tooth (a prosthetic tooth attached to a removable retainer), or a prosthetic tooth can be mounted to a space maintainer. This is a small loop of metal that prevents neighboring teeth from encroaching on the gap left by the extraction. These prosthetic solutions will be periodically replaced and upsized to mimic the natural growth of your child's teeth. Once their jaw has fully developed (which is in the mid to late teens), getting a permanent dental implant is their best bet.

The presence of an odontoma won't inhibit your child's dental health once it's removed and a prosthetic replacement is selected.