Woman’s painful toothache turns out to be dangerous cancer

‘In addition to my health, my personal life was hit too as I went through a divorce last year’ (Picture: MDWfeatures/@nicolescrookedsmile)

A woman has been left toothless after her unchecked toothache turned out to be cancer.

Nicole Kowalski, 28, first started experiencing pain in her mouth back in 2017.

The student from Los Angeles, California, went to see a dentist but was brushed off and told it was nothing to worry about.

Six months later, the pain was only getting worse and was so bad that it made it impossible for Nicole to sleep.

In January, 2018, she went back and this time the x-ray showed that there was bone missing in her upper jaw. The dentist referred the student to an oral surgeon, who performed a biopsy and found that Nicole had a rare, benign tumour in her mouth.

Although the mass was not deadly, the blonde still had to undergo surgery to remove it, which involved taking out four of her teeth.

She was given an obturator to use, a prosthetic retainer fitted into the hole in her mouth post-surgery. Despite the necessity of this medical item, without which she wouldn’t be able to eat or talk, it is considered ‘unnecessary’ by the US healthcare system.

Unfortunately, this surgery was also not the end of Nicole’s misery.

During a check-up two weeks later, doctors discovered that she had salivary gland cancer.

Nicole’s smile is now unrecognisable, with her having recently removed seven teeth – including those in the front (Picture: MDWfeatures/@nicolescrookedsmile)

Nicole said: ‘Cancer runs in my family so you kind of realise that the chance you might get it is always there but I wasn’t prepared to hear those words.

‘I thought about my age and all the things I wanted to do. I felt an immense sense of loneliness.

‘It started with a toothache. The dentist told me it was nothing to worry about but over the next six months, the pain increased and spread to my jaw and face.

‘It was so intense that I couldn’t sleep. Eventually after a few trips to the doctors, an x-ray at the dentists revealed some bone loss.

‘A biopsy revealed that I had a benign tumour. This was in my upper right jaw and I underwent surgery to remove it.

‘The doctor removed four teeth and a portion of my soft palate and I was given my obturator to fill in the defect and replace the teeth.

‘It wasn’t until I went back for my follow up appointment that I found out I was misdiagnosed and had salivary gland cancer.’

Nicole still suffers from pain but the cancer is gone, for now (Picture: MDWfeatures/@nicolescrookedsmile)

What followed was a month of radiation treatment, which in turn caused side effects including trismus – also known as lockjaw – a condition that makes the muscles spasm.

As a result, Nicole could barely open her mouth, and had to undergo physical therapy for her jaw as well as speech therapy.

Despite the harsh radiation, the cancer returned in December 2019, and it was revealed that the blonde’s jaw-bone was dying.

Another operation saw seven more teeth removed, including her front teeth.

Nicole said: ‘I spent a month attending radiation treatment yet I still experienced intense pain.

‘A year after my first round, my teeth started to shift which wasn’t normal and doctors thought my bone might be dying – a possible side effect of the treatment.

‘I went back in for surgery and had the rest of my soft palate along with the majority of my hard palate removed and seven more teeth. This was followed by further radiation treatment.’

During this time, Nicole also suffered setbacks in her personal life, as her husband of 10 years broke up with her during this time.

In August this year, the young woman’s scans were also cancer-free, for now at least.

The blonde now wants to raise awareness of rare mouth cancer and help others(Picture: MDWfeatures/@nicolescrookedsmile)

But the pain and trismus remains – albeit lessened – and she still has to use the obturator every day.

Nicole said: ‘As of right now, my scans are clear and the pain is much duller and no longer so intense. I should get my new obturator this month.

‘Trismus is a condition that affects someone’s ability to open their mouth.

‘I can only open my mouth nine-millimetres wide. It makes eating and speaking difficult and I have to stretch my jaw every day.

‘I use tongue depressors to leverage my jaw open four or five times a day. I attend speech therapy twice a week too and have an entire kit to keep my mouth clean and tidy.

‘In addition to my health, my personal life was hit too as I went through a divorce last year. We’d been together for 10 years so it came as a shock to me.

‘It was hard to think of being an independent person without that relationship but we divorced amicably and I’m very lucky to have had him as a friend.’

She has since also found love with a new man, Eric, and returned to her active social life with a new-found love of hiking.

Nicole said: ‘I met Eric last year and falling in love with him has been magical. I feel like the luckiest person in the world to have him as my partner.

‘We hadn’t even known each other a year but during my second surgery, Eric spent every single day with me at the hospital making sure I was getting everything I needed.

‘It was and is still so clear how much he loves and supports me.

‘It’s okay to feel what you’re feeling. If you need to grieve or cry or scream, do it.

‘People will try to tell you what to do, how to fix things, how to feel, and when to go back to work but listen to you and stay positive.

‘The disease changed everything about my life and the way I look at the world. I had no idea this cancer existed.’

More: Health

Nicole now wants to raise awareness of her rare cancer, in order to help others who are suffering similar conditions.

She said: ‘We deserve to be seen, heard, supported and loved. Most of all, we deserve to be understood.

‘This disease may have taken away chunks of my mouth and plenty of teeth, but it didn’t take away my voice.’

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