Going to the dentist to get your routine check-up and cleaning might not seem important, however, a visit to the dentist can actually save your life.
In August of 2017, a Washington state mother brought her kids in for a simple and routine teeth-cleaning procedure. Yet during the appointment, the dentist ended up spotting something unusual. Rather than ignoring it, she followed her instincts and ended up making a life-saving discovery…
In August of 2017, a mother from Everett, Washington, which is located 25 miles north of Seattle, brought her young children into the dentist’s office for their scheduled routine cleaning. According to Kara Jones, she brought her two children to see Dr. Harlyn Susarla at Stellar Kids Dentistry.
Nothing To Worry About
The Everett-based children’s dentist office was not only a convenient choice for Jones, but the staff is known for being extremely gentle and friendly with young kids. So when Jones arrived with her kids, she figured everything would go smoothly during the routine cleaning.
Cause For Concern
However, that’s not exactly what happened. According to Dr. Susarla, she couldn’t help but notice something a little strange and a bit concerning while she was in the middle of examining and cleaning Kara’s then four-year-old daughter Hunter’s teeth.
While cleaning Hunter’s teeth, Susarla discovered several of the four-year-old’s teeth were loose. While some might think it’s perfectly normal for a young child’s teeth to be loose, Susarla knew that multiple loose teeth were actually very unusual for a four-year-old.
Susarla went out and told Jones what she had found and explained she wanted to do a panoramic X-ray on Hunter. While some may have just ignored the finding, Susarla knew a number of things could be causing the teeth the be loose and she wanted to be sure the cause was properly addressed.
Jones went ahead with the X-ray and was devastated when Susarla came back and showed her what she found. According to Jones, Susarla discovered a tumor in Hunter’s jaw, which had caused the teeth to loosen but hadn’t caused any other symptoms.
A Terrifying Moment
“I was freaked out,” Hunter told KOMO News about the terrifying moment Susarla showed her the tumor in her four-year-old daughter’s jaw. “I was at the dentist. You don’t… tumor? No.” Susarla had no way of knowing if the tumor was benign or potentially cancerous, so she recommended Jones take Hunter to a doctor.
Seeing A Specialist
“A tumor was found on her jaw during a routine dental visit. The dental x-ray showed a tiny solid mass tumor on her jaw,” the Jones family explained on their GoFundMe page. Jones immediately made an appointment with a doctor and brought Hunter to Seattle Children’s Hospital to see a surgeon.
During the appointment, the surgeon took a biopsy of the tumor and told the worried family the bad news. According to the doctors, Hunter’s tumor was cancerous. “After many appointments with specialists, scans, bone marrow, and tumor biopsies, Seattle Children’s Hospital diagnosed her,” Jones said.
“It was a difficult day we won’t ever forget,” Jones said about the experience. Specifically, they diagnosed her with neuroblastoma, which is a form of cancer that forms in immature nerve tissue and is most often found in children under the age of five years old.
Stage 4 Neuroblastoma
“Her entire world changed when she was diagnosed with high-risk stage 4 Neuroblastoma at 4 1/2 years old. We were very lucky in how it was discovered, as Hunter Rose showed no signs or symptoms,” Jones said about the devastating diagnosis.
A Childhood Disease
According to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Neuroblastoma accounts for seven to 10 percent of childhood cancers and accounts for 50 percent of all cancers in infants. According to the American Cancer Society, about 800 new neuroblastoma cases are diagnosed each year across the country.
In most cases, the cancers beings in the adrenal glands on top of the kidneys, but it can also spread in other areas of the body. In Hunter’s case, cancer started in her abdomen. “We found out she had a tumor in her abdomen,” Hunter’s dad, Jay, told KOMO News.
In most cases, children usually present a number of signs and symptoms that let parents know that something is wrong. In many cases, children experience symptoms like stomach pain, leg weakness, decreased appetite, chest pain, dark circles around the eyes, a hard mass in the neck, leg weakness, or even irritability.
A Complete Shock
However, in Hunter’s case, she hadn’t shown or experienced any of the usual symptoms, which is why her parents were both so shocked when they found out the news. During more examinations, doctors discovered that Hunter’s cancer had also spread to her hip in addition to her jaw.
The Survival Rate
Doctors explained to the family that neuroblastoma has a five-year survival rate of 40-50 percent with treatment, which usually involves surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, immunotherapy, and stem cell transplants. Over the past 18 months, Hunter bravely battled her cancer.
18 Months Later
“We had two tumor removals. We’ve had five rounds of chemo, two stem cell transplants,” Jones explained. “We’ve had 12 rounds of radiation, six rounds of immunotherapy.” Thankfully, Hunter is now cancer-free and Dr. Seenu Susarla, a Seattle Children’s Craniofacial Surgeon, credits Hunter’s dentist for saving her life.
A Life Saver
“This is such an aggressive disease process, early recognition and diagnosis is the key, I think, for treatment,” said Dr. Susarla, whose wife happens to be the dentist that discovered Hunter’s tumor. “I’ve always been proud of my wife. She’s certainly a lot smarter than I am.”
“This is just one more piece of evidence that suggests that,” the surgeon added. While Hunter is cancer-free right now, the aggressive treatment caused other health issues like hearing loss and came with up to a 90 percent risk that she will develop leukemia, kidney disease, liver disease, and/or heart disease in the future.
A Grateful Parent
However, the family is just happy and cherishing the fact that Hunter is happy and healthy again. “I’m so thankful for you. You saved our daughter’s life,” Jones told Dr. Susarla. “The fact that this was something that was found in the dental chair, I’m grateful that I saw this and that she was able to get the care the treatment that she needed,” Susarla said. “Honestly, I probably think about her every day.”