Every year, thousands of children are born with a cleft palate, cleft lip or a combination of both. The advocacy group AmeriFace promotes the month of July as National Cleft & Craniofacial Awareness & Prevention Month to call attention to this potentially disfiguring defect—and to highlight treatments offered by dentists that can change the destiny of a child with a cleft defect.
Simply put, a cleft is a gap or opening in the palate (roof of the mouth) and/or upper lip. Cleft lips and palates result when structures that are forming in an unborn baby’s mouth and face don’t fuse together as they should during pregnancy. They can occur on either one side or on both sides of the face, in partial form (with some connecting tissue present) or completely open.
Clefts can cause severe disfigurement in a child, which may lead to a diminished self-image and disruption in relationships with others. A cleft can also compromise other aspects of a child’s health and life, including dental health, nutrition, respiratory function and speech development.
Doctors don’t always know why a particular baby is born with a cleft lip or palate, but clefts are thought to result from a combination of factors. Genetics most certainly plays a role, but there appear to be other influencing factors during pregnancy like nutritional deficiencies and fetal exposure to alcohol, radiation or toxic chemicals. In addition, having poorly controlled diabetes or being obese during pregnancy may increase the risk of the baby being born with cleft lip or cleft palate.
Managing known health conditions as well as striving for better prenatal nutrition and protection from environmental hazards may reduce the risks for cleft formation, even so, clefts do form. When they do, we can often effectively correct them, thanks to surgical procedures first developed by a military surgeon stationed in Korea in 1950.
While analyzing photos of cleft patients, Dr. Ralph Millard realized the tissue needed to repair a cleft was already present, but in a distorted form. He then experimented with surgical techniques that released the tissue so that it could be moved and fashioned into a normal appearance.
Dr. Millard’s original techniques remain the basis for today’s advanced procedures. Correction of a cleft lip or palate typically requires a series of procedures which can span the child’s developmental years. The first surgery usually occurs around 3-6 months of age, followed by later procedures to refine the earlier work. This process usually requires a team of dental specialists that includes oral surgeons, orthodontists and general dentists.
The road to restoration from a cleft birth defect can be a long one for children and their families, but the treatment methods developed over the last several decades can truly give them the gift of a normal life.
If you would like more information about cleft repair and other oral surgical procedures, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “Cleft Lip & Cleft Palate: Common Birth Defects That Can Be Repaired Beautifully by Skilled Surgeons.”
If we could go back in time, we all probably have a few things we wish we could change. Recently, Dr. Travis Stork, emergency room physician and host of the syndicated TV show The Doctors, shared one of his do-over dreams with Dear Doctor magazine: “If I [could have] gone back and told myself as a teenager what to do, I would have worn a mouthguard, not only to protect my teeth but also to help potentially reduce risk of concussion.”
What prompted this wish? The fact that as a teenage basketball player, Stork received an elbow to the mouth that caused his two front teeth to be knocked out of place. The teeth were put back in position, but they soon became darker and began to hurt. Eventually, both were successfully restored with dental crowns. Still, it was a painful (and costly) injury — and one that could have been avoided.
You might not realize it, but when it comes to dental injuries, basketball ranks among the riskier sports. Yet it’s far from the only one. In fact, according to the American Dental Association (ADA), there are some two dozen others — including baseball, hockey, surfing and bicycling — that carry a heightened risk of dental injury. Whenever you’re playing those sports, the ADA recommends you wear a high-quality mouth guard.
Mouthguards have come a long way since they were introduced as protective equipment for boxers in the early 1900’s. Today, three different types are widely available: stock “off-the-shelf” types that come in just a few sizes; mouth-formed “boil-and-bite” types that you adapt to the general contours of your mouth; and custom-made high-quality mouthguards that are made just for you at the dental office.
Of all three types, the dentist-made mouthguards are consistently found to be the most comfortable and best-fitting, and the ones that offer your teeth the greatest protection. What’s more, recent studies suggest that custom-fabricated mouthguards can provide an additional defense against concussion — in fact, they are twice as effective as the other types. That’s why you’ll see more and more professional athletes (and plenty of amateurs as well) sporting custom-made mouthguards at games and practices.
“I would have saved myself a lot of dental heartache if I had worn a mouthguard,” noted Dr. Stork. So take his advice: Wear a mouthguard whenever you play sports — unless you’d like to meet him (or one of his medical colleagues) in a professional capacity…
There are a few mouth conditions so rare most of us have never heard of them. Geographic tongue would fall into this category, affecting only one to three percent of the population. Even so, these irregular reddish patches resembling land masses on a map (hence the name) might be alarming at first glance—but they pose no danger and usually cause very little discomfort.
Geographic tongue is also known as benign migratory glossitis. As its clinical name implies, the unusual red patchy areas (often surrounded by a grayish white border) aren't cancerous nor contagious. The patches also appear to change shape and move around ("migrate") the tongue.
The reddish appearance comes from the temporary disappearance of tiny bumps on the tongue surface called papillae, which can leave the tongue smooth to the touch in affected areas. The lost papillae may reappear again a few hours or days later, and may occasionally disappear again. While it's not painful, you can experience a stinging or burning sensation emitting from these patchy areas.
We're not sure how and why geographic tongue erupts, but it's believed high emotional or psychological stress, hormonal imbalance or certain vitamin deficiencies might be factors in its cause. There may also be a link between it and psoriasis, a condition that can cause dry, itchy patches on the skin.
If you're one of the rare individuals who has episodes of geographic tongue, the good news is it's harmless, only mildly uncomfortable and usually temporary. The bad news, though, is that there's no known cure for the condition—but it can be managed to ease discomfort during outbreaks.
It's been found that highly acidic and spicy foods, as well as astringents like alcohol or some mouthrinses, can increase the level of discomfort. By avoiding these or similar foods or substances, you can reduce the irritation. Your dentist may also be able to help by prescribing anesthetic mouthrinses, antihistamines or steroid ointments.
For the most part, you'll simply have to wait it out. Other than the mild, physical discomfort, the worst part is often simply the appearance of the tongue. But by watching your diet and other habits, and with a little help from us, you can cope with these irritations when it occurs.
If you would like more information on geographic tongue and similar oral issues, 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 “Geographic Tongue: No Cause for Alarm.”
Dental implants have soared in popularity thanks to their life-likeness, functionality and durability. But these prized qualities have also created an ironic downside—people are much more likely to replace a tooth with an implant rather than go through the time and effort to preserve it.
We say downside because even though an implant is as close to a real tooth as we can now achieve in dentistry, it still can't rival the real thing. It's usually in your long-term health interest to save a tooth if reasonably possible. And, there are effective ways to do so.
Most dental problems arise from two common oral diseases. One is tooth decay, caused by contact with acid produced by bacteria living in dental plaque. We can often minimize the damage by treating the early cavities decay can create. But if we don't treat it in time, the decay can advance into the tooth's pulp chamber, putting the tooth in danger of loss.
We can intervene, though, using root canal therapy, in which we drill into the tooth to access its interior. We clean out the decayed tooth structure, remove the diseased pulp tissue and fill the empty chamber and root canals to seal the tooth and later crown it to further protect it from re-infection.
Periodontal (gum) disease also begins with bacteria, but in this case the infection is in the gum tissues. Over time the ensuing inflammation locks into battle with the plaque-fueled infection. This stalemate ultimately weakens gum attachment, the roots and supporting bone that can also increases risk for tooth loss.
We can stop a gum infection through a variety of techniques, all following a similar principle—completely removing any accumulated plaque and tartar from the teeth and gums. This stops the infection and starts the process of gum and bone healing.
You should be under no illusions that either of these approaches will be easy. Advanced tooth decay can be complex and often require the skills of an endodontist (a specialist in root canals). Likewise, gum disease may require surgical intervention. But even with these difficulties, it's usually worth it to your dental health to consider saving your tooth first before you replace it with an implant.
If you would like more information on how best to treat a problem tooth, 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 “Save a Tooth or Get an Implant?”
Most dental problems arise from tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease. But they aren't the only source of danger to your teeth—gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) could be just as damaging to your tooth enamel as dental disease.
GERD usually occurs when a ring of muscles at the top of the stomach weaken, allowing stomach acid to enter the esophagus. This resulting acid reflux can make life unpleasant and pose potential health dangers—over time it can damage the lining of the esophagus and cause ulcers and pre-cancerous cells. It can also erode tooth enamel if acid enters the mouth and raises its level of acidity.
This can be a problem because acid can soften and dissolve the mineral content of tooth enamel. This is the primary cause of tooth decay as acid produced by oral bacteria attack enamel. The more bacteria present, often thriving in dental plaque, the higher the potential levels of acid that can damage enamel. Stomach acid, which is strong enough to break down food, can cause similar harm to enamel if it causes higher than normal acidity in the mouth.
There are some things you can do to protect your teeth if you have GERD, namely manage your GERD symptoms with lifestyle changes and medication. You may need to avoid alcohol, caffeine or heavily acidic or spicy foods, all known to aggravate GERD symptoms. Quitting smoking and avoiding late night meals might also ease indigestion. And your doctor may recommend over-the-counter or prescription drugs to help control your acid reflux.
You can also boost your teeth's enamel health by practicing daily brushing and flossing—but not right after a reflux episode. The enamel could be softened, so brushing can potentially remove tiny particles of mineral content. Instead, rinse with water mixed with or without a little baking soda to help neutralize acid and wait about an hour—this will give saliva, the mouth's natural acid neutralizer, time to restore the mouth's normal pH level.
And be sure you're using a fluoride toothpaste. Fluoride strengthens enamel—in fact, your dentist may recommend topical fluoride applications to boost the effect.
These and other tips can help minimize the effects of GERD on your dental health. With an ounce of prevention, you can keep it from permanently damaging your teeth.
If you would like more information on managing your dental health with GERD, 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 “GERD and Oral Health.”
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