Toothy Tumors: What are Teratomas?

Did you ever think that a tumor could contain hair, bone, and teeth? Well, a special kind of tumor known as teratoma can, and their appearance can be nightmare-inducing. “Teratos” is the Greek word for “monster,” so teratomas are essentially monster tumors (McRae). Despite the name, teratomas are usually benign and easy to treat once discovered.


(Image of a mature ovarian teratoma. Photo Credit: ResearchGate)

They often form in the ovaries, testicles, and tailbone region and can not only cause a lot of discomfort, but they can also obstruct the flow of fluid from surrounding tissues (Rice). There really isn’t a direct explanation as to why these toothy-masses form, but we do know that they arise from your body’s germ cells early on in your development. Germ cells are a type of stem cell that has the capacity to produce various types of tissues, thus explaining why teeth, hair, muscle, and bone can be found inside the tumors (Rice). Although similar in appearance, teratomas should not be confused with malformed fetuses that remain inside the bodies of their living siblings (Hecht).

Treatment for benign tumors usually involved surgical intervention. Patients are then closely monitored to make sure that no regrowth occurs. In instances where the tumor is malignant, surgical removal and chemotherapy are oftentimes prescribed (Hecht). Teratomas have already helped medical professionals to better understand stem cells and they have the potential to teach us so much more.

If you are interested in seeing once of these monstrous masses up close, the Mutter Museum has one in their collection. The dermoid cyst, a type of teratoma, was removed in 1884 from a 23-year-old woman (Mutter). The teratoma was later donated to the museum by W.M. Hunt where it remains today. I will leave a link to their object feature HERE.

In recent years a 16-year-old girl was undergoing a routine appendectomy when her surgeon noticed a large tumor on one of her ovaries when her surgeon noticed that she had an ovarian teratoma (McRae). The tumor was removed from the teenager, and upon further inspection, the surgeon observed that the teratoma was filled with hair, bone, and what appeared to be a partially-developed brain (McRae).

Teratomas are classified as rare tumor types, occurring in about 1 out of every 35,000-45,000 fetuses. Despite this, they still have the ability to mystify and horrify anyone who looks into the depths of one.


  • “Dermoid Cyst of the Ovary: Does it Bite?” Memento Mutter. Accessed 29 July, 2020.
  • Hecht, Marjorie. “What is a Teratoma? Healthline. 13 September, 2018. Accessed 29 July, 2020.
  • Rice, Mae. “Tumors Can Grow Teeth.” 1 August, 2019. Accessed 29 July, 2020.
  • McRae, Mike. “A Tiny Brain, Skull, and Hair Have Been Extracted from a Teen’s Ovary.” 7 January, 2017. Accessed 29 July, 2020.’s-ovary.

Until Next Time


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