One in 700 babies are born each year with a cleft lip, a cleft palate or both. Besides its devastating emotional and social impact, this common birth defect can also jeopardize a child's long-term health. Fortunately, incredible progress has occurred in the last half century repairing cleft defects. Today's children with these birth defects often enter adulthood with a normal appearance and better overall health.
A cleft is a gap in the mouth or face that typically forms during early pregnancy. It often affects the upper lip, the soft and hard palates, the nose or (rarely) the cheek and eye areas. Clefts can form in one or more structures, on one side of the face or on both. Why they form isn't fully understood, but they seem connected to a mother's vitamin deficiencies or to mother-fetus exposure to toxic substances or infections.
Before the 1950s there was little that could be done to repair clefts. That changed with a monumental discovery by Dr. Ralph Millard, a U.S. Navy surgeon stationed in Korea: Reviewing cleft photos, Dr. Millard realized the “missing” tissue wasn't missing—only misplaced. He developed the first technique to utilize this misplaced tissue to repair the cleft.
Today, skilled surgical teams have improved on Dr. Millard's efforts to not only repair the clefts but also restore balance and symmetry to the face. These teams are composed of various oral and dental specialties, including general dentists who care for the patient's teeth and prevent disease during the long repair process.
Cleft repairs are usually done in stages, beginning with initial lip repair around 3-6 months of age and, if necessary, palate repair around 6-12 months. Depending on the nature and degree of the cleft, subsequent surgeries might be needed throughout childhood to “polish” the original repairs, as well as cosmetic dental work like implants, crowns or bridgework.
In addition to the surgical team's skill and artistry, cleft repair also requires courage, strength and perseverance from patients and their parents, and support from extended family and friends. The end result, though, can be truly amazing and well worth the challenging road to get there.
If you would like more information on repairing cleft birth defects, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Cleft Lip & Cleft Palate.”
Keeping your child’s teeth and gums healthy may sometimes seem like “one step forward, two steps back.” You do all the right things like daily brushing and flossing, and keeping sugar consumption to a minimum. But they’re still getting too many cavities.
We can add something else to what you’re already doing to decrease their cavity rate: apply a concentrated fluoride mixture (stronger than what’s found in toothpaste or drinking water) directly to their teeth. Studies have shown that topical fluoride is effective at reducing the risk of new cavities in children at high risk for decay, and may even reverse early decay.
Topical fluoride can be applied as a gel, foam or varnish. The particular method used depends on factors like the child’s age or the preference of the dentist. But any of the three methods can deliver a short-term, high dose of fluoride to the teeth.
As a result, the burst of fluoride strengthens tooth enamel against decay, with plenty of evidence of its effectiveness. As such, the American Dental Association recommends periodic topical fluoride applications for children older than 6, and especially those that appear to be at higher risk for decay.
You might, however, be concerned about the long-term health effects of these stronger concentrations of fluoride. Again, research indicates that the only long-term hazard associated with too much fluoride is a condition called fluorosis, which produces heavy tooth staining. Fluorosis, though, is more of an appearance issue and doesn’t harm the tooth itself. And it can be avoided in the case of topical fluoride by performing the procedure correctly and conservatively.
There’s also a short-term risk of a reaction to the fluoride mixture if the child swallows too much during the procedure, which could cause stomach upset and pain, vomiting or headaches. We can avoid this by using precautions like dental dams and other isolation methods to prevent the child from ingesting it.
Using proper precautions and procedures, topical fluoride is a safe and effective way to give your child added protection against decay. Avoiding this destructive disease can help ensure they’ll enjoy good dental health for the rest of their lives.
If you would like more information on keeping your child’s teeth and gums healthy, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Fluoride Gels Reduce Decay.”
Your gums play an important role in dental function and health. Not only do they help anchor teeth in the jaw, the gums also protect tooth roots from disease.
But you can lose that protective covering if your gums recede or shrink back from the teeth. An exposed tooth is more susceptible to decay, and more sensitive to temperature and pressure.
Here are 4 causes for gum recession and what you can do about them.
Gum disease. The most common cause for gum recession is a bacterial infection called periodontal (gum) disease that most often arises from plaque, a thin film of bacteria and food particles accumulating on teeth. Gum disease in turn weakens the gums causes them to recede. You can reduce your risk for a gum infection through daily brushing and flossing to remove disease-causing plaque.
Genetics. The thickness of your gum tissues is a genetic trait you inherit from your parents. People born with thinner gums tend to be more susceptible to recession through toothbrush abrasion, wear or injury. If you have thinner tissues, you’ll need to be diligent about oral hygiene and dental visits, and pay close attention to your gum health.
Tooth eruption. Teeth normally erupt from the center of a bony housing that protects the root. If a tooth erupts or moves outside of this housing, it can expose the root and cause little to no gum tissue around the tooth. Moving the tooth orthodontically to its proper position could help thicken gum tissue and make them more resistant to recession.
Aggressive hygiene. While hard scrubbing may work with other cleaning activities, it’s the wrong approach for cleaning teeth. Too much force applied while brushing can eventually result in gum damage that leads to recession and tooth wear. So, “Easy does it”: Let the gentle, mechanical action of the toothbrush bristles and toothpaste abrasives do the work of plaque removal.
While we can often repair gum recession through gum disease treatment or grafting surgery, it’s much better to prevent it from happening. So, be sure you practice daily brushing and flossing with the proper technique to remove disease-causing plaque. And see your dentist regularly for cleanings and checkups to make sure your gums stay healthy.
If you would like more information on proper gum care, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Gum Recession.”
Fans of the legendary rock band Steely Dan received some sad news a few months ago: Co-founder Walter Becker died unexpectedly at the age of 67. The cause of his death was an aggressive form of esophageal cancer. This disease, which is related to oral cancer, may not get as much attention as some others. Yet Becker's name is the latest addition to the list of well-known people whose lives it has cut short—including actor Humphrey Bogart, writer Christopher Hitchens, and TV personality Richard Dawson.
As its name implies, esophageal cancer affects the esophagus: the long, hollow tube that joins the throat to the stomach. Solid and liquid foods taken into the mouth pass through this tube on their way through the digestive system. Worldwide, it is the sixth most common cause of cancer deaths.
Like oral cancer, esophageal cancer generally does not produce obvious symptoms in its early stages. As a result, by the time these diseases are discovered, both types of cancer are most often in their later stages, and often prove difficult to treat successfully. Another similarity is that dentists can play an important role in oral and esophageal cancer detection.
Many people see dentists more often than any other health care professionals—at recommended twice-yearly checkups, for example. During routine examinations, we check the mouth, tongue, neck and throat for possible signs of oral cancer. These may include lumps, swellings, discolorations, and other abnormalities—which, fortunately, are most often harmless. Other symptoms, including persistent coughing or hoarseness, difficulty swallowing, and unexplained weight loss, are common to both oral and esophageal cancer. Chest pain, worsening heartburn or indigestion and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can also alert us to the possibility of esophageal cancer.
Cancer may be a scary subject—but early detection and treatment can offer many people the best possible outcome. If you have questions about oral or esophageal cancer, call our office or schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Oral Cancer.”
After living with braces for a couple of years, the “big reveal” finally happens and you see your new smile for the first time. But then you’re told you have to wear another mouth appliance—around the clock to start and then just at night. After all the new smile excitement, wearing a retainer can be a little anticlimactic.
But this part of your orthodontic treatment is as important as the earlier tooth movement phase. That’s because your new “forever smile” doesn’t necessarily come with a “forever” guaranty. In fact, your teeth could quickly begin moving back to where they were before braces if you don’t wear a retainer.
The reason why is because of a tough but elastic gum tissue called the periodontal ligament. This ligament lies between the teeth and the jawbone, attaching to both through tiny extending fibers. The periodontal ligament actually does most of the anchoring work to hold your teeth in place.
The ligament is also why we’re able to move your teeth to different positions: As braces apply pressure to the teeth and jaw in the direction of desired movement, the ligament remodels itself to allow the teeth to take up these new positions.
The tissues involved, though, still retain a kind of “memory” of where the teeth used to be. This creates an immediate tendency for the teeth to revert to these old positions. To prevent this, we use a retainer that when worn keeps or “retains” the teeth in their new positions until they’ve stabilized and the old tissue “memory” fades.
There are different types of retainers, some removable and some fixed in place. Choosing the best one for a particular patient will depend on the complexity of the bite treatment, the patient’s age and level of self-responsibility and the preferences of the orthodontist. Whichever type of retainer you eventually use, it’s important you wear it to preserve all of the time and effort that went into transforming your smile.
Wearing a retainer might not be high on your “exciting things to do” list. But it’s the best way to guarantee you’ll enjoy your new smile for years to come.
If you would like more information on keeping your new smile after braces, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “The Importance of Orthodontic Retainers.”
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