She was also diagnosed with PCOS—but that's only one part of a possible explanation.

By Leah Groth
Updated February 06, 2020
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Stray hairs on your chin or in your nostrils isn't exactly an uncommon occurrence—but when one woman began noticing eyelash-like hairs growing from her gum tissue, she knew something was off.

The woman's case was recently outlined in a new case study published in the journal Oral Surgery, Oral Medicine, Oral Pathology, Oral Radiology, and explores the diagnosis of her gingival hirsutism—an extremely rare condition in which an individual grows hairs out of the soft tissues of their gums.

According to the case study, the woman's story began a little over a decade ago when, at 19 years old, she met with doctors at the University of Campania Luigi Vanvitelli in Italy, complaining that tiny, eyelash-like hairs were growing out of her gums directly behind her front upper teeth (aka the “sulcular epithelium of the retroincisor palatal papilla," as researchers explained in the study).

After running hormonal tests and conducting an ultrasound, doctors diagnosed her with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a condition involving an imbalance of reproductive hormones—specifically higher than normal levels of androgens or male hormones. It is common for women who suffer from PCOS to suffer from hirsutism, or unwanted hair growth that follows a male pattern (think: hair on the chin, chest, or upper lip). 

Doctors initially treated the girl with oral contraceptives to help regulate her hormones, as well through a surgical procedure to remove all of the unwanted hairs, along with the associated soft tissue. After four months of  that prescribed therapy she was back to normal without any oral hair growth.

Oral Medicine Case Reports

However, after six years of hair-free gums, the subject, at that point 25 years old, returned to the facility. After she stopped taking her hormone-balancing birth control pills, hair started sprouting once again—this time not only in her mouth but also from her chin and neck region. Doctors took a gum sample from her mouth, finding that her gum was abnormally thick but that the shafts of hair managed to penetrate them regardless. The girl also returned the following year when the oral hair returned once again—worse than ever in "multiple oral sites" including the "gingivae of both arches."

In the case report, researchers admitted they have very few answers, even after extensively searching through similar cases studies. They do know, however, that up until this woman's specific case, there were only five other similar cases—all involving men—with the first documentation of the condition in the 1960s

Study authors also point out that this could be a case of "ectopia" or displacement of tissue or organs within the body. They hypothesize that the oral cavity, which is derived from a structure called the stomodeum in an embryo, has ectodermal derivation, meaning it can potentially produce hair and sebaceous glands, and possibly give rise to hair. Yet another theory is that the condition might be a “structural defect” because of its tendency to recur.

Overall, study authors said that "the occurrence of hairs in the oral cavity is an extremely rare finding," and that the cause of the gingival hirsutism is still unknown. They maintain, however, that "an investigation of systemic health is always desirable because more complex medical conditions may be present and not recognized. The case study did not give an update as to the woman's current status.

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