Oral and facial clefts are among the most common and heartbreaking of birth defects. Clefts make feeding or even breathing difficult and can affect speech development.
But there's one other profound effect: an “abnormal” face caused by a cleft can have devastating consequences for a person's self-image and social relationships.
About 1 in 700 U.S. babies are born with some type of visible gap or “cleft.” It can occur in their upper lip, soft and hard palate, nose or occasionally extending to the cheek or eye region. We typically classify clefts as “unilateral” (affecting only one side of the face) or “bilateral” (affecting both sides).Â We're not completely sure on the root causes, but research so far has uncovered links with the mother's possible exposure to toxic substances, nutrient or vitamin deficiencies, or infections during fetal development.
Taking steps during pregnancy to minimize these exposures is certainly helpful. But what can be done for children born with a cleft?
A great deal, thanks to the development of surgical repair techniques over the last century. The surgical approach relies on the fact that the tissues required to repair the cleft already exist. They're simply distorted by the cleft break.
Even so, the road to restoration is a long and arduous one. Lip repairs usually take place at 3-6 months of age; palate (roof of the mouth) clefts are undertaken at 6-12 months. As the child's jaw and mouth structure develops, further surgeries may be needed to match earlier repairs with development.
Cleft repairs also require a team of specialists including a maxillofacial (oral) surgeon, orthodontist and general dentist. The latter plays an important role during the process, ensuring the child maintains good dental health through prevention and treatment of disease and dental work for at risk teeth.
The road to a normal life is difficult — but well worth it. A repaired cleft vastly improves a child's health and well-being. Moreover, it restores to them something the rest of us might take for granted — a normal face and smile.
A "toothy grin" might be endearing, but not necessarily healthy. More of the teeth showing may mean your gums have pulled back or receded from the teeth. If so, it's not just your smile that suffers—the parts of teeth protected by the gums could become more susceptible to disease.
There are a number of causes for gum recession. Some people are more likely to experience it because of genetically thinner gum tissues. Over-aggressive brushing could also contribute to recession. But the most common cause by far is periodontal (gum) disease, a bacterial infection triggered by dental plaque accumulating on teeth mainly as a result of inadequate hygiene.
There are some things we can do to help heal and restore recessed gums, most importantly treating gum disease. The number one goal of treatment is to uncover and remove all dental plaque from tooth and gum surfaces, which can take several sessions and sometimes minor surgery if the infection has reached the tooth roots. But removing plaque and tartar (calcified plaque) is necessary to stop the infection and allow the gums to heal.
For mild recession, this may be enough for the gums to regain normal coverage. But in more severe cases we may need to help rejuvenate new tissue with grafting surgery. In these highly meticulous procedures a surgeon uses microscopic techniques to position and attach donated tissue to the recession site. The graft serves as a scaffold on which new tissue growth can occur.
While these treatments can be effective for reversing gum recession, they often require time, skill and expense. It's much better to try to prevent gum recession—and gum disease—in the first place. Prevention begins with daily brushing and flossing to prevent plaque buildup, as well as regular dental visits for more thorough cleanings. Be on the lookout too for any signs of a beginning gum infection like swollen, reddened or bleeding gums and see your dentist as soon as possible to minimize any damage to your gums.
Caring for your gums is equally as important as caring for your teeth. Healthy gums equal a healthy mouth—and an attractive smile.
If you would like more information on preventing gum recession, 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.”
When the multi-platinum recording artist, songwriter and TV personality Jason Derulo was recently asked about his ideal woman, his answer covered a remarkably broad spectrum. "There’s no specific thing," he said, "so I think it’s unfair to say what my ‘type’ is." But it turns out that there is one thing the So You Think You Can Dance judge considers essential: A beautiful smile.
"I’m not into messy teeth," Derulo said. "If the grill has spaces and different colors, it’s not my vibe."
As it turns out, he may be on to something: A number of surveys have indicated that a bright, healthy smile is often the first thing people notice when meeting someone new. Yet many are reluctant to open up that big grin because they aren’t satisfied with the way their teeth look. If you’re one of them, consider this: Modern cosmetic dentistry offers a variety of ways to improve your smile — and it may be easier and more affordable than you think.
For example, if your smile isn’t as bright as you would like it to be, teeth whitening is an effective and economical way to lighten it up. If you opt for in-office treatments, you can expect a lightening effect of up to 10 shades in a single one-hour treatment! Or, you can achieve the same effect in a week or two with a take-home kit we can custom-make for you. Either way, you’ll be safe and comfortable being treated under the supervision of a dental professional — and the results can be expected to last for up to two years, or perhaps more.
If your teeth have minor spacing irregularities, small chips or cracks, it may be possible to repair them in a single office visit via cosmetic bonding. In this process, a liquid composite resin is applied to the teeth and cured (hardened) with a special light. This high-tech material, which comes in colors to match your teeth, can be built up in layers and shaped with dental instruments to create a pleasing, natural effect.
If your smile needs more than just a touch-up, dental veneers may be the answer. These wafer-thin coverings, placed right on top of your natural teeth, can be made in a variety of shapes and colors — from a natural pearly luster to a brilliant "Hollywood white." Custom-made veneers typically involve the removal of a few millimeters of tooth enamel, making them a permanent — and irreversible — treatment. However, by making teeth look more even, closing up spaces and providing dazzling whiteness, veneers just might give you the smile you’ve always wanted.
If you would like more information about cosmetic dental treatments, please call our office to arrange a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Cosmetic Dentistry — A Time for Change.”
Whether you live in the snow belt or the sunny south, the winter season often means a change in the weather. In many places, the sun isn't as strong and cooler temperatures bring relief from the summer's heat. Yet even though it may be chillier outside, your body's need for hydration is the same as it was in the summer—and a lack of proper hydration can be bad news for your oral hygiene.
Everyone knows we need to drink plenty of water every day to stay healthy. It's important for good oral hygiene because water is the major component of saliva, which fights bacteria and helps neutralize the acids that cause tooth decay. Water also keeps the soft tissues of the mouth moist and healthy, and helps fight bad breath. In many communities tap water is fluoridated, which offers proven protection against cavities.
But in the middle of winter, fewer people carry around bottles of cold water for refreshment—and that's a shame, because we need it just as much! While indoor (and outdoor) air is often drier in winter, your body continues to lose water in the same ways. And if you keep up a healthy exercise routine (like jogging, snow sports or backyard fun and games), you still need plenty of hydration. An ice-cold glass of water may not be as appealing in January as in July…but it's just as important.
Of course, the water you drink doesn't have to be freezing cold to do its job. Hot tea (especially herbal tea) can be a healthy option for wintertime hydration. So is plain water without ice. Fruits and vegetables also contain lots of water, plus vitamins, fiber, and many more substances that are good for your body.
But there are some drinks you should avoid—or at least take in moderation. Regularly drinking coffee and tea can stain your teeth, and excessive caffeine may have negative health effects. Consuming alcoholic beverages can cause dry mouth, and may increase the risk of oral cancers. And, of course, drinks that contain sugar (including soda, some juices, and many coffee and hot chocolate beverages) are linked not only to tooth decay, but to other health problems as well.
And whatever the season, don't forget to come in to the dental office for regular checkups and cleanings. We can remove the sticky tartar that clings to your teeth and may cause tooth decay and other problems. We will also perform a complete dental exam, evaluate your oral health and help resolve small problems before they turn into big headaches (or toothaches). Working together, we can help you enjoy the benefits of good oral hygiene all though the year.
If you would like more information on oral hygiene, please contact us or schedule a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “10 Tips For Daily Oral Care at Home” and “Think Before You Drink.”
Dental caries (tooth decay) is a leading cause of tooth loss. But with prompt diagnosis and care we can often stop it before it causes too much damage.
The traditional treatment approach is simple: remove all diseased tooth structure and then restore the tooth with a filling. But this otherwise effective treatment has one drawback: you may lose significant healthy structure to accommodate a suitable filling or to make vulnerable areas easier to clean from bacterial plaque.
That's why a new treatment approach called minimally invasive dentistry (MID) is becoming more common. The goal of MID is to remove as little of a tooth's natural enamel and dentin as possible. This leaves the treated tooth stronger and healthier, and could reduce long-term dental costs too.
Here's how MID could change your future dental care.
Better risk assessment. MID includes a treatment protocol called caries management by risk assessment (CAMBRA). With CAMBRA, we evaluate your individual tooth decay risk, including oral bacteria levels, the quality of saliva flow to neutralize mouth acid, and sugar consumption. We then use our findings to customize a treatment plan that targets your areas of highest risk.
New detection methods. The real key to fighting tooth decay is to find it before it can destroy tooth structure with the help of new diagnostic technology. Besides advances in x-ray imaging that provide better views with less radiation exposure, we're also using powerful dental microscopes, lasers and infrared photography to show us more about your teeth than we can see with the naked eye.
"Less is More" treatments. In contrast to the dental drill, many dentists are now using air abrasion rather than a dental drill to remove decayed tooth material. Air abrasion emits tiny material particles within a pressurized air stream that leaves more healthy tooth structure intact than with drilling. We're also using new filling materials like composite resin that not only resemble natural tooth color, but require less structural removal than other types of fillings.
Using MID, we can treat tooth decay while preserving more of your natural teeth. This promises better long-term outcomes for future dental health.
If you would like more information on new treatments for tooth decay, 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 “Minimally Invasive Dentistry: When Less Care is More.”
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