One of the most common and anguish-filled birth defects is a cleft lip or palate (roof of the mouth). Not only do clefts disrupt the normality of a child’s facial appearance, they can also lead to problems with chewing, speech and the long-term health of teeth and gums.
A cleft is a tissue gap that occurs during fetal development, usually in the first trimester, in which parts of the baby’s face fail to unite. Why this occurs is not fully understood, but vitamin imbalances in the mother, exposure to radiation or other toxic environments, or infections are all believed to play a role.
Facial clefts are classified as either incomplete, in which there is some but not full tissue fusion, or complete, with no fusion at all. A cleft can be unilateral, affecting only one side of the face, or bi-lateral, affecting both sides. During infancy a cleft can adversely affect a child’s ability to nurse, and it sometimes disrupts breathing. As the child grows, speech patterns may be severely disrupted and their teeth and bite may not develop properly.
Fortunately, there have been dramatic advances in cleft repair over the past sixty years. It’s actually a process that can span a child’s entire developmental years and involve the expertise of a number of surgical and dental specialists. For a cleft lip, the initial surgical repair to realign and join the separated tissues usually occurs around three to six months of age; repair of a cleft palate (where the gap extends into the roof of the mouth) between 6 and 12 months.
Subsequent procedures may be needed in later years to refine earlier results and to accommodate the mouth’s continuing growth. At some point the treatment focus shifts to cosmetic enhancement (which can include implants, crown or bridgework) and periodontal health, to ensure gum tissues that support teeth and gums aren’t compromised by the effects of the cleft or its treatment.
At the end of this long process, something of a miracle may seem to occur: a young person’s once disfigured mouth transforms into a beautiful smile. It’s a chance for them to gain a normal life — and a new lease on physical, emotional and oral health.
Like the rest of their bodies, children’s teeth and mouth are on a rapid development track. By the time they’re young adults, they will have had two sets of teeth, extensive bone growth and a noticeable change in their features. The natural process is truly amazing.
But dental disease can easily derail their development, with tooth decay the most common problem children encounter. More than at any other time of life, preventive dental care is a top priority.
True preventive care for your child includes the entire mouth, not just the teeth. Our main focus, of course, is to head off tooth decay before it develops, including the application of topical fluoride or sealants when appropriate. But we also monitor bite development and provide protection against sports injuries or other forms of trauma with customized mouth guards.
You also have a part to play in your child’s preventive dental care. It begins when your child’s first teeth begin to emerge in the mouth — the point when you should begin brushing them. You can also reduce the risk of dental disease by providing a nutritious diet that’s high in fresh fruits and vegetables and low in sugar, especially between-meal snacks.
You should also start regular dental visits around their first birthday. This is not only the best time to begin professional care, but your child will also have an easier time at this age becoming comfortable with visiting the dentist than waiting until they’re older.
Taking care of your child’s teeth is a working partnership between you and us: we provide the professional care your child needs to develop properly, while you look to their daily hygiene and nutrition, which is just as important for your child’s healthy development. Through our partnership, we can ensure your child is getting the very best start toward a lifetime of healthy teeth and gums.
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.
Basketball isn't a contact sport—right? Maybe once upon a time that was true… but today, not so much. Just ask New York Knicks point guard Dennis Smith Jr. While scrambling for a loose ball in a recent game, Smith's mouth took a hit from an opposing player's elbow—and he came up missing a big part of his front tooth. It's a type of injury that has become common in this fast-paced game.
Research shows that when it comes to dental damage, basketball is a leader in the field. In fact, one study published in the Journal of the American Dental Association (JADA) found that intercollegiate athletes who play basketball suffered a rate of dental injuries several times higher than those who played baseball, volleyball or track—even football!
Part of the problem is the nature of the game: With ten fast-moving players competing for space on a small court, collisions are bound to occur. Yet football requires even closer and more aggressive contact. Why don't football players suffer as many orofacial (mouth and face) injuries?
The answer is protective gear. While football players are generally required to wear helmets and mouth guards, hoopsters are not. And, with a few notable exceptions (like Golden State Warriors player Stephen Curry), most don't—which is an unfortunate choice.
Yes, modern dentistry offers many different options for a great-looking, long lasting tooth restoration or replacement. Based on each individual's situation, it's certainly possible to restore a damaged tooth via cosmetic bonding, veneers, bridgework, crowns, or dental implants. But depending on what's needed, these treatments may involve considerable time and expense. It's better to prevent dental injuries before they happen—and the best way to do that is with a custom-made mouthguard.
Here at the dental office we can provide a high-quality mouthguard that's fabricated from an exact model of your mouth, so it fits perfectly. Custom-made mouthguards offer effective protection against injury and are the most comfortable to wear; that's vital, because if you don't wear a mouthguard, it's not helping. Those "off-the-rack" or "boil-and-bite" mouthguards just can't offer the same level of comfort and protection as one that's designed and made just for you.
Do mouthguards really work? The same JADA study mentioned above found that when basketball players were required to wear mouthguards, the injury rate was cut by more than half! So if you (or your children) love to play basketball—or baseball—or any sport where there's a danger of orofacial injury—a custom-made mouthguard is a good investment in your smile's future.
If you would like more information about custom-made athletic mouthguards, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Athletic Mouthguards” and “An Introduction to Sports Injuries & Dentistry.”
As tough as teeth are, life can take its toll on them and sometimes lead to parts of them chipping off. Although it might not affect a tooth's overall health, it can certainly downgrade its appearance.
But we can restore a chipped tooth like new, and it may not require extensive dental work. Thanks to a versatile dental material called composite resin, we can often bring back a tooth's natural appearance in just one visit.
Tooth-colored resins have been around for decades, but their application has been limited due to issues with durability. Recently developed bonding techniques, though, have made them a workable option for restoring mild to moderate tooth defects.
We do this by applying and bonding the composite resin to a tooth to “fill in” the missing portion. While it's often a short process, it does require a thorough understanding of tooth anatomy, function and aesthetics.
We begin with a comprehensive exam to assess the true condition of a chipped tooth. Some dental defects might be better served with a porcelain restoration like a veneer or crown for best results. Still, there are a wide range of defects for which composite resins is a solid repair choice.
Once we've determined bonding is appropriate, we prepare the tooth by first roughening its outer surface and then etching it with an acid solution to increase bonding strength. We then apply a luting agent, a kind of dental cement, also to aid with bonding.
We then begin applying the composite resin in liquid form, one layer at a time. This layering process helps simulate the color depth and shape of the tooth, and to further incorporate strength into the restoration. We're also careful at this point to match the variations of color with those of the surrounding teeth so that it looks as natural as possible.
As we finish each layer, we apply a curing light to harden the resin. We can then polish the finished product and make adjustments for the bite. The end result is a tooth that not only looks whole, but natural and blended with the rest of your teeth. Bonding could truly change your smile in just one visit.
If you would like more information on cosmetic dental restorations, 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 “Artistic Repair of Front Teeth With Composite Resin.”
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