Perpetually Congested Woman Had a Tooth Growing into Her Nose

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Have you ever had one of those colds where no matter how hard you blow your nose, you still feel congested? That was daily life for a 57-year-old woman in China who had nosebleeds, congestion and inflammation for decades, according to news reports.

But the cause of her nasal nuisances wasn't a lingering cold or deviated septum: When she finally went to see a doctor, they found a fully formed tooth that had grown upward into her nasal cavity, the Daily Mail reported today (Oct. 30).

Doctors at the Hunan Provincial People's Hospital first discovered the tooth when they took a scan of the woman's head to look for the cause of her chronic inflammation — but all they saw was some sort of round object blocking her nasal cavity, according to the Daily Mail. [27 Oddest Case Reports]

When the doctors tried to extract the object, however, they discovered that they were actually dealing with an extra tooth, root and all, and needed to peel away several layers of membrane to remove it.

Extra, or "supernumerary," teeth may sound like something out of science fiction, but these teeth can show up in as much as 4 percent of the population, according to a 2011 paper published in the Journal of Conservative Dentistry. Supernumerary teeth are twice as common in men as they are in women.

Supernumerary teeth tend to grow out of the maxilla, which is the upper jawbone. The teeth tend to grow downward, alongside a person's other upper teeth once their baby teeth fall out.

But sometimes, the teeth form "upside down" and instead of growing down into the mouth, they grow upward, toward a person's nose, according to a 2012 case series published in Contemporary Clinical Dentistry.

But extra teeth rarely grow all the way into the nasal cavity, Dr. John Hellstein, a dentist of oral pathology at the University of Iowa, who wasn't involved in the woman's case, told Live Science in 2014.

It's not clear why some people develop extra teeth, but researchers think genetics may play a role.

Even when extra teeth grow in the "right" direction, they can cause problems with the arrangement and growth of one's regular teeth. They can knock teeth out of alignment, overcrowd the jaw, and even cause cysts, according to a 2014 review in the Journal of Clinical and Experimental Dentistry.

But because they're so uncommon, the medical community has yet to reach a solid decision on the best time to extract the teeth before they "erupt" or break through the tissue and potentially cause problems, according to the 2014 paper.

Originally published on Live Science.

Dan Robitzski
Staff Writer
Dan Robitzski is a staff writer for Live Science and also finishing up his master's degree at NYU's Science, Healthy & Environmental Reporting Program. Formerly a neuroscientist, Dan decided to switch to journalism and writing so that he could talk about transparency and accessibility issues within science. When he's not writing, he's either getting beaten up at fencing practice or enduring the dog breath of his tiny, affectionate Chihuahua. He also spends too much time on Twitter at @danrobitzski.