Friday, 10 August 2012

Teeth where teeth should not be...

After 23 years of abnormal swelling in her left eye, Nagabhushanam Siva decided to let doctors in Chennai, southern India investigate her condition.  A tumour was diagnosed and an operation was undertaken, only to reveal the presence of two fully formed teeth within the tumour itself. Unfortunately, the tumour had been in place for too long, placing pressure on the optic nerve and leaving it permanently damaged - thus the operation was not successful, leaving Siva blind.

Teeth in the tumour, seen during surgery.
(Cover Asia Press)
This kind of tumour is usually present from birth and is called a 'mature teratoma'*. Disturbingly, they can contain all sorts of misplaced tissue - including hair, teeth and bone. In some cases, the growth can include even more complex organs. As I discovered with not a small amount of horror that such a thing as an 'mature ovarian cystic teratoma' can exist. This is often a mass of disorganised tissue within the ovarian region, but can occasionally form into a 'homunculus' with a generalised human form. In one case study from Japan, such a tumour was found to have 'Brain, eye, spinal nerve, ear, teeth, thyroid gland, bone, bone marrow, gut, trachea, blood vessels, and phallic' tissue (Kuno et al. 2003), arranged in a 'well organised' fashion.

Although such tumours are rare, they contain skeletal and dental tissues which could very well survive in archaeological contexts. A brief search of the International Journal of Osteoarchaeology hasn't turned up any clear examples of such a condition in the past, but I think they could be out there. It's certainly something to keep in mind next time I find some teeth where teeth really shouldn't be...

* Wikipedia informs me that a benign tumour of this nature, in the UK is termed a 'mature teratoma', whilst in the US it's simply referred to as a teratoma. In the UK, a 'teratoma' or 'immature teratoma' refers to a malignant tumour.


  1. Really good post! There is not many information about these teeth found in teratomas... It should be interesting to study its morphology... Congratulations!

  2. It would be interesting to study the morphology of teeth from tumours like this, for sure! The human body does some interesting things, eh?

  3. Dentist Hermosa Beach is well-known in the field of cosmetic dentistry. They will provide great facilities as well as best good quality dental services.