Posts for: August, 2018
About one American baby in 700 is born with some form of lip or palate cleft—and the percentage is even higher in other parts of the world. At one time this kind of birth defect sentenced a child to a lifetime of social stigma and related health issues. But thanks to a surgical breakthrough over sixty years ago, cleft defects are now routinely treated and repaired.
Oral and facial clefts happen because a child’s facial structure fails to develop normally during pregnancy. This causes gaps or “clefts” to occur in various parts of the mouth or face like the upper lip, the palate (roof of the mouth), the nose or (more rarely) in the cheek or eye region. Clefts can have no tissue fusion at all (a “complete” cleft) or a limited amount (an “incomplete” cleft), and can affect only one side of the face (“unilateral”) or both (“bilateral”).
There was little that could be done up until the early 1950s. That’s when a U.S. Navy surgeon, Dr. Ralph Millard, stationed in Korea noticed after reviewing a series of cleft photos that tissue needed to repair a cleft was most often already present but distorted by the defect. From that discovery, he developed techniques that have since been refined in the ensuing decades to release the distorted tissue and move it to its proper location.
This revolutionary breakthrough has evolved into a multi-stage approach for cleft repair that often requires a team effort from several dental and medical professionals, including oral surgeons, orthodontists and general dentists. The approach may involve successive surgeries over several years with dental care front and center to minimize the threat of decay, maintain proper occlusion (the interaction between the upper and lower teeth, or “bite”), or restore missing teeth with crowns, bridgework or eventually dental implants.
While it’s quite possible this process can span a person’s entire childhood and adolescence, the end result is well worth it. Because of these important surgical advances, a cleft defect is no longer a life sentence of misery.
If you would like more information on treatment for a cleft lip or palate, 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.”
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.”
Summer is a great time to go outdoors and get your game on—no matter whether your court is set up for tennis or basketball, whether you’re on the diamond or on the greens. Regular physical activity can help you maintain your optimal weight, reduce your risk for certain diseases, and even lower stress levels. But many of our favorite outdoor sports also carry a risk of accidental injury…and frequently this involves injuries to the mouth.
Because they’re front and center, the incisors (front teeth) are the ones most often affected by accidental injuries. While serious damage is relatively rare, chips and cracks are not uncommon. Fortunately, dentistry offers a number of good ways to restore chipped or broken teeth. Which one is best for you depends on exactly what’s wrong—but a procedure called cosmetic bonding is one of the most common ways to repair small to moderate chips where the tooth’s soft pulp isn’t exposed.
In dental bonding, a tooth-colored material is applied directly to the tooth’s surface to fill in the chip or crack. The material itself is a high-tech mixture of tough plastic resins, translucent glass-like fillers, and other substances. Strong, durable and lifelike in appearance, these composite resins can be matched to the natural shade of your teeth.
Bonding is a conservative procedure, meaning that it requires little or no preparation of the tooth. It can be done right in the dental office, often in a single visit and without the need for anesthesia. Unlike porcelain veneers or crowns (caps), it usually doesn’t involve removing significant amounts of healthy tooth structure.
While the results can last for years, bonded restorations aren’t as durable as porcelain veneers or crowns, which are made in a dental laboratory. Bonding also isn’t suitable to repair major damage, or in cases where the tooth’s pulp could become infected; in this situation, you may need a root canal and a crown. However, for moderate chips or cracks, bonding can be an appropriate and economical way to restore your teeth to full function and aesthetic appearance.
Of course, it’s often said that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. That’s why it’s best to wear a protective mouthguard whenever you’re on the field. We can provide a custom-made mouthguard that’s comfortable to wear and offers maximum protection against dental injury—just ask!
If you have questions about cosmetic bonding or mouthguards, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Artistic Repair of Front Teeth with Composite Resin” and “Athletic Mouthguards.”