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.”
Magician Michel Grandinetti can levitate a 500-pound motorcycle, melt into a 7-foot-tall wall of solid steel, and make borrowed rings vanish and reappear baked inside bread. Yet the master illusionist admits to being in awe of the magic that dentists perform when it comes to transforming smiles. In fact, he told an interviewer that it’s “way more important magic than walking through a steel wall because you’re affecting people’s health… people’s confidence, and you’re really allowing people to… feel good about themselves.”
Michael speaks from experience. As a teenager, his own smile was enhanced through orthodontic treatment. Considering the career path he chose for himself — performing for multitudes both live and on TV — he calls wearing an orthodontic device (braces) to align his crooked teeth “life-changing.” He relies on his welcoming, slightly mischievous smile to welcome audiences and make the initial human connection.
A beautiful smile is definitely an asset regardless of whether you’re performing for thousands, passing another individual on a sidewalk or even, research suggests, interviewing for a job. Like Michael, however, some of us need a little help creating ours. If something about your teeth or gums is making you self-conscious and preventing you from smiling as broadly as you could be, we have plenty of solutions up our sleeve. Some of the most popular include:
- Tooth Whitening. Professional whitening in the dental office achieves faster results than doing it yourself at home, but either approach can noticeably brighten your smile.
- Bonding. A tooth-colored composite resin can be bonded to a tooth to replace missing tooth structure, such a chip.
- Veneers. This is a hard, thin shell of tooth-colored material bonded to the front surface of a tooth to change its color, shape, size and/or length; mask dental imperfections like stains, cracks, or chips, and compensating for excessive gum tissue.
- Crowns. Sometimes too much of a tooth is lost due to decay or trauma to support a veneer. Instead, capping it with a natural-looking porcelain crown can achieve the same types of improvements. A crown covers the entire tooth replacing more of its natural structure than a veneer does.
If you would like more information about ways in which you can transform your smile, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about the techniques mentioned above by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Teeth Whitening,” “Repairing Chipped Teeth,” and “Porcelain Crowns & Veneers.”
Years ago, disease or trauma robbed you of one of your teeth. At the time you might have opted for an affordable solution, like a partial denture. But now you'd like to restore that missing tooth with a dental implant, the most life-like tooth replacement available.
That's a great decision. But there may be a hiccup along the way to your new implant: the state of the underlying jawbone. Implants need a certain amount of bone for proper placement. If not enough is present, that may cause an interruption in your plans—and that could be a real possibility if your tooth has been missing for some time.
That's because, like other living tissues, bone has a growth cycle: Old bone cells die and dissolve, while new cells form to take their place. In the jaw, the force produced by teeth during chewing helps to keep this growth process in the bone functioning at a healthy pace.
When a tooth goes missing, though, so does this chewing stimulation. A lack of stimulation can slow the growth rate for that part of the bone and its volume can diminish over time. It's possible for a quarter of the bone volume to be lost within the first year after losing a tooth.
If you've experienced that level of bone loss, we may not be able to place an implant—yet. You might still have a few options. For one, we could attempt to regenerate some of the bone through grafting. Bone material grafted into the affected area can serve as a scaffold for new bone cells to form and adhere. Over time, this could result in a sufficient amount of regenerated bone to support a dental implant.
Another possibility might be to install a smaller diameter implant like those used to support removable dentures. Because they're smaller they require less bone than standard-sized implants. They're not for every situation, though, and are best suited for situations where aesthetics isn't a priority.
To know what your options are regarding an implant-based restoration, you'll need to undergo a thorough evaluation of your oral health, including supporting bone. Depending on your situation, you may still be able to renew your smile with this premier tooth replacement option.
If you would like more information on dental implants, 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 “Dental Implants After Previous Tooth Loss.”
When you hear the word “surgery,” your first thought might be of a high-charged operating room with a surgeon operating intently as a nurse mops sweat from their brow. While there are high-stakes surgeries, most aren’t quite that dramatic.
Dental implant surgery falls into the latter category. It does qualify as a surgical procedure because we make incisions and tissue alterations for the implant. But it’s no more rigorous than a surgical tooth extraction.
Still, if you’re new to implant surgery, it’s natural to feel some apprehension about it. To calm any nervousness, here’s a rundown of what to expect before, during and after the procedure.
Pre-Planning. Implant surgery is usually a routine affair because of meticulous planning beforehand. Often, we map out the implant site using CT scanners or other high-level imaging, identifying obstacles like nerves, blood vessels and sinus cavities, verifying there’s enough bone present to support an implant. With this information we can create a surgical plan or guide for placement in the mouth to accurately situate the implant.
Site Prep. On the day of the surgery we’ll first administer local anesthesia to numb the entire work area to pain. We’ll start with a few small gum incisions to expose the bone. Then using the surgical plan or guide, we’ll create a small channel for the implant with a drilling sequence that successively enlarges it until we achieve the best fit for the implant.
Implant Placement. Once we’ve completed drilling the channel, we’ll remove the implant from its sterile packaging and install it in the channel. After we’ve made any necessary adjustments and verified proper placement with x-rays, we’ll suture the gum tissue back into place.
After the Surgery. You might experience mild to moderate discomfort afterward that’s usually manageable with over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen. We can, if necessary, prescribe medication if you require something stronger. We may also prescribe an anti-bacterial mouth rinse for a short time to reduce the risk of infection.
After the implant has integrated with the bone which usually takes about 8-12 weeks, we’ll install your life-like crown or restoration. Your new smile and improved dental function will be well worth the process.
If you would like more information on the process for obtaining dental implants, 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 “Dental Implant Surgery.”
Calling someone "long in the tooth" is an unflattering way of saying they're getting old. The phrase refers to the effects of gum recession, in which the gums pull away from the teeth and cause them to appear longer. The problem, which makes the teeth vulnerable to disease as well as look unattractive, is a common problem for older people.
The most common cause for gum recession is periodontal (gum) disease. Bacteria and food particles, which make up dental plaque, trigger an infection. The deposits of plaque and calculus (hardened plaque) continue to fuel the infection as it continues to weaken gum tissue attachments.
As a result, the gums begin to lose their attachment to the teeth and pull away, exposing the root areas normally covered by the gums. Unlike the enamel-protected crowns (the parts of teeth you can see), the root is covered by a thin layer of material called cementum.
Although cementum offers less protection than enamel, this normally isn't a problem because the gums also act as a barrier against bacteria and other harsh aspects of the mouth environment. But without gum coverage, the root area becomes vulnerable to disease and is more prone to painful sensitivity.
Because gum disease is the main culprit, you can reduce your chances of gum recession by keeping your teeth clean of plaque through brushing and flossing, and regularly undergoing professional cleanings. If gum disease does occur, it's important to seek treatment as soon as possible: The earlier it's treated the more likely that any recessed gum tissues can regenerate.
If the recession is extensive, however, you may need clinical intervention to assist with its regrowth. This can be done by grafting tissue at the site that then serves as scaffold for new tissue to grow upon. Though effective, these microsurgical techniques are quite complex and involved.
So, if you suspect you have gum disease or recession, see your dentist as soon as possible for a full examination. It may be possible to restore your gums and enhance your smile.
If you would like more information on protecting your gum health, 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.”
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