Regular dental checks can help avoid permanent defacement

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Doctors say that apart from regular visits to dentists, people should also have X-rays taken every six or 12 months since it is the only way to discover tumors in the jaw

Many people have their loose teeth pulled out, or get drugs to treat problems like bleeding gums, but these can also be symptoms of much more dangerous diseases or conditions, one of which is the odontogenic tumor (tumors in the jaws that arise from odontogenic - tooth forming).

Without timely diagnosis and treatment, the tumor can permanently damage a person's oral structure. 

Le Hoang Em, 48, had to have surgery at the Ho Chi Minh City Odonto-Maxillofacial Hospital recently to cut parts of his jaw bones after he was found to have an adenomatoid tumor which is an odontogenic tumor that arises from the enamel organ or dental lamina.

Em said four of his teeth had fallen out earlier, so he'd gotten denture implants but he kept suffering pain and bleeding in the area.

So he went to a dentist who told him the problem was severe and advised him to go to a hospital for more advanced checks.

Bao Phuoc Duc, a surgeon at the HCMC Odonto-Maxillofacial Hospital, said the tumor is not well known to the public and thus people only come to hospital when the condition has become severe, causing difficulties in treatment as also increasing expenses. 

Duc said the hospital received around ten cases every month, mostly young people, and in each case, the patient has had no prior knowledge about the tumor.

They came only after their faces have swollen up and they have lost teeth, meaning the tumor has damaged their jaws. In some cases, patients had lost almost all their teeth.

Doctors said people with dental problems as well as dentists themselves have to be careful, because the tumor can only be discovered with X-ray images, and typically this facility is not available in many dental clinics. Since the tumor is a relatively rare occurrence, even dentists can overlook the possibility, with serious consequences, they said.

Duc said patients at these stages need surgical intervention, which means disfigurement of the face that will have to be corrected with a false jaw or a new one formed with the transplantation of their own bones.

He said many patients with the tumors are students and a deformed face after the operation can leave them psychologically scarred as well, affecting their studies.

"The cost is very high, the procedure is very complicated and total recovery is difficult," Duc said.

Doctor Pham Nhu Hai, head of the stomatology department at Vietnam-Cuba Hospital in Hanoi, said the procedure costs around VND40 million (US$1,900) as it involves the replacement of the jaws.

Early treatment can involve enucleation which is a surgical removal of a mass without cutting into or dissecting it.

Hai said the hospital treats more than five patients with the tumor every month, when the tumor has severely affected their chewing and swallowing functions.

He recently had to remove the lower jaw from a 35-year-old man to stop the tumor from spreading.

"I felt nothing abnormal with my teeth, except that one day suddenly my face was deformed. When I went to the hospital, it was already too late," the patient, only identified by his first name Van, said in a Lao Dong report.

Duc said the tumor is benign, but is "dangerous" in the way that it develops silently, causing no typical pain in the beginning. Many people would attribute the first pains to toothache, and realize it was not normal only after the tumor damages the dental structure.

Although a direct link has not been established, most patients with tumors have a history of toothache or dental infection or injuries such as tooth fractures, chipped tooth, or facture of the enamel, doctors said.

Duc said Vietnamese people have to stop being indifferent to dental health. 

"The indifference has put Vietnam among the countries with the highest rates of oral diseases in the world."

A recent survey by the Health Ministry showed that more than 90 percent of Vietnamese people have oral diseases, which include dental problems, but around 55 percent never see a dentist.

Not seeing a dentist regularly can have serious consequences as studies have documented connections between dental problems and cardiological conditions.

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