Just a toothache?


Taking a glimpse at Maria Hinalulu’s (20) swollen cheek, one would think it was caused by a tooth ache but it’s something different.
In 2008, Maria woke up one morning with a severe tooth ache on the right side of her lower jaw but she brushed away the pain assuming it would go away.
“The tonsils in my throat had multiplied and became painful that morning. I tried to ease the pain by taking pain killers that made the pain subside for a while.  However, two weeks later, my tooth started aching again as my jaw swell up,” explains Maria.
Maria states that all the teeth on the right side of her jaw were extremely painful such that she had to eat non-solid food like porridge, mashed potatoes and various soups, using her left jaw.
“Those were horrible times in my life, because I was forced to stop eating sweet foods. My grandmother decided to accompany me to see a doctor in Outapi who examined my teeth and the lump but no diagnosis could be made as the cause of this condition. I was then injected with an antibiotic on the jaw,” she recalls.
She revealed that the pain went away after a few days but the lump kept on growing slowly by slowly.
“My grandmother had run out of options, so she decided to give me some traditional herbs to try to stop the lump from growing further but this didn’t help at all,” she adds.
With a lump on her cheek, Maria kept on going to school even though people would stare at her and constantly ask questions about what caused the swelling and why it keeps on growing.
“I really don’t want to remember those days but a year after I completed my Grade 10, in September 2009, I went back to see my doctor then he referred me to another surgeon in Oshakati who gave me some medicine but couldn’t diagnose my condition. Up to now, I still don’t understand what caused this lump on my face,” says Maria.
This medicine managed to permanently get rid of the pain on the lump but seven of her teeth from the right side of the affected jaw were damaged and the lump has kept on growing since.
Last month, Maria was referred to a private practitioner in Windhoek who is said to be well familiar with this ‘unknown’ condition and she is still yet to be treated.
According to the private practitioner from Lindquist Medical Centre in Windhoek, this condition is known as Ameloblastom. It is a rare, benigm tumor of the odontogenic epithelium (outside portion of the teeth during development). It develops on the lower and upper jaw and causes severe abnormalities on the face and jaws. It destroys the surrounding bone tissues and the bone then loosens the teeth.
“It’s a good cancer, because it rarely spreads to other parts of the body and it doesn’t kill but just causes local destruction. By ‘local’ I mean a surgical excision is required to treat this disorder and the face is repaired back to normal using bones from the individual’s hip.  The end result, if not treated, is that the jaw ultimately breaks, then a pathological fracture is developed and it’s very complicated to fix,” he explains.
He further explained that symptoms include painless swelling of the face, loose teeth and periodontal (gum) disease. This tumor, according to him, is genetic and no diet is followed to prevent it from occurring.
“This tumor is very common in Africa, because people don’t have access to technological tools and that makes it difficult to detect. In Europe, symptoms are quickly noticed and surgery is done on a daily basis,” he explains.
He adds that in order to prevent this tumor, people should go for regular dental check-ups; visit a doctor or a dentist.
“I have handled many cases like these on a number of occasions; the early it is detected, the chances of you bein traumatised by this tumour are less. Prevention is better than cure,” he concludes.