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.”
Sometimes you need only a single solution to improve your smile: teeth whitening to brighten stained teeth; porcelain veneers or crowns to mask dental flaws; or a life-like dental implant to replace a missing tooth. But not all dental situations are that simple and sometimes require a combination of treatments.
A case in point: restoring a missing tooth within a poor bite. The absent tooth itself may be the cause of the bite problem if it’s been missing for some time: The nearby teeth tend to move or “drift” into the empty space, leaving no room for implant placement.
When this happens, you’ll first need orthodontic treatment to correct the bite problem. Not only will this open the space for the implant, it also comes with its own benefits. It obviously improves your smile appearance—but straighter teeth are also easier to keep clean of bacterial plaque, which reduces your disease risk. You may also experience better digestion after your teeth are properly aligned and able to function as they should during eating.
The traditional way to improve a bite is through metal braces. But there are some downsides: For one, braces can make it difficult to keep teeth adequately clean, making wearers more susceptible to tooth decay and gum disease. Braces are also quite visible and can detract from a person’s appearance (even more so if a missing tooth is involved).
Unless your situation requires braces, you can choose clear aligners as an alternative. These clear, computer-generated plastic trays are worn in sequence to gradually move teeth to their desired positions. Unlike braces, you can remove aligners for eating, cleaning or rare special occasions. And, they’re barely noticeable to others.
If you also have a missing tooth, you can have a temporary prosthetic (“false”) tooth built into your aligner trays. In this way you can still enhance your smile while undergoing aligner treatment.
Once your bite has been corrected, we can then proceed with restoring your missing tooth permanently with a dental implant. Although orthodontics adds to the time and expense of restoration, its often necessary to achieve the best result. Your future smile will be the better for it.
Dental amalgam—also known as “silver fillings”—has been used for nearly a hundred years to treat cavities. There are several reasons why this mixture of metals has been the go-to material among dentists: Malleable when first applied, dental amalgam sets up into a durable dental filling that can take years of biting forces. What’s more, it’s stable and compatible with living tissue.
But there’s been growing concern in recent years about the safety of dental amalgam, with even some wondering if they should have existing fillings replaced. The reason: liquid mercury.
Mercury makes up a good portion of dental amalgam’s base mixture, to which other metals like silver, tin or copper are added to it in powder form. This forms a putty that can be easily worked into a prepared cavity. And despite the heightened awareness of the metal’s toxicity to humans, it’s still used in dental amalgam.
The reason why is that there are various forms of mercury and not all are toxic. The form making headlines is known as methylmercury, a compound created when mercury from the environment fuses with organic molecules. The compound builds up in the living tissues of animals, particularly large ocean fish, which have accumulated high concentrations passed up through their food chain.
That’s not what’s used in dental amalgam. Dentists instead use a non-toxic, elemental form of mercury that when set up becomes locked within the amalgam and cannot leach out. Based on various studies, treating cavities with it poses no health risks to humans.
This also means there’s no medical reason for having an existing silver fillings removed. Doing so, though, could cause more harm than good because it could further weaken the remaining tooth structure.
The most viable reason for not getting a dental amalgam filling is cosmetic: The metallic appearance of amalgam could detract from your smile. There are newer, more life-like filling options available. Your dentist, though, may still recommend dental amalgam for its strength and compatibility, especially for back teeth. It’s entirely safe to accept this recommendation.
Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara had a rough Stanley Cup final against the St. Louis Blues this past June. Not only did the Bruins ultimately lose the championship, but Chara took a deflected puck shot to the face in Game Four that broke his jaw.
With the NHL season now over, the 42-year-old Bruins captain continues to mend from his injury that required extensive treatment. His experience highlights how jaw fractures and related dental damage are an unfortunate hazard in hockey—not only for pros like Chara, but also for an estimated half million U.S. amateurs, many in youth leagues.
Ice hockey isn't the only sport with this injury potential: Basketball, football (now gearing up with summer training) and even baseball players are also at risk. That's why appropriate protective gear like helmets and face shields are key to preventing injury.
For any contact sport, that protection should also include a mouthguard to absorb hard contact forces that could damage the mouth, teeth and gums. The best guards (and the most comfortable fit) are custom-made by a dentist based on impressions made of the individual's mouth.
But even with adequate protection, an injury can still happen. Here's what you should do if your child has an injury to their jaw, mouth or teeth.
Recognize signs of a broken jaw. A broken jaw can result in severe pain, swelling, difficulty speaking, numbness in the chin or lower lip or the teeth not seeming to fit together properly. You may also notice bleeding in the mouth, as well as bruising under the tongue or a cut in the ear canal resulting from jawbone movement during the fracture. Get immediate medical attention if you notice any of these signs.
Take quick action for a knocked-out tooth. A tooth knocked completely out of its socket is a severe dental injury. But you may be able to ultimately save the tooth by promptly taking the following steps: (1) find the tooth and pick it up without touching the root end, (2) rinse it off, (3) place it back in its socket with firm pressure, and (4) see a dentist as soon as possible.
Seek dental care. Besides the injuries already mentioned, you should also see a dentist for any moderate to severe trauma to the mouth, teeth and gums. Leading the list: any injury that results in tooth chipping, looseness or movement out of alignment.
Even a top athlete like Zdeno Chara isn't immune to injury. Take steps then to protect your amateur athlete from a dental or facial injury.
If you would like more information about dealing with sports-related dental injuries, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Athletic Mouthguards” and “The Field-Side Guide to Dental Injuries.”
Henry Ford famously said a customer could have any color they wanted on their Model T “as long as it was black.” Those days are over—today’s cars and trucks come with a slew of options, and not just their paint color.
There’s something else with a wide array of possible options: your choice of toothbrush. Your local store’s dental care aisle has dozens of toothbrushes in a myriad of sizes, shapes and features. And many promise better hygiene outcomes because of their unique design.
It’s enough to make your head spin. But you can narrow your search for the right toothbrush— just look for these basic qualities.
Bristle texture. At this all-important juncture between brush and teeth, softer-textured bristles are better. That might sound counter-intuitive, but soft bristles are just as capable at removing bacterial plaque, that sticky tooth film most responsible for dental disease, as stiffer bristles. Stiffer bristles, on the other hand, can damage gums and cause recession. Also, look too for rounded bristles (gentler on the gums), and multi-leveled or angled ones for better access around teeth.
Size and shape. Toothbrushes come in different sizes because, well, so do mouths. Look, then, for a brush and bristle head that can comfortably reach all the teeth in your mouth. If you have problems with manual dexterity, choose a brush with larger grip handles. A brush that’s comfortable to use and easy to handle can make your brushing more effective.
ADA Seal of Acceptance. The American Dental Association tests hygiene products like toothbrushes. If they pass the association’s standards, the manufacturer includes the ADA Seal of Approval on their packaging. Not all submit their brushes for this evaluation, so the seal’s absence doesn’t necessarily mean a brush is of low quality. The seal, though, does tell you the product passes muster with dental professionals.
It often takes a little trial and error to find the right brush, but since you should change yours out every six months, it’s a small price to experiment. And, no matter how great the brush, it’s only as good at removing plaque as the hand that holds it. So, be sure you learn proper brushing techniques—that and the right brush will keep your teeth and gums healthy.
If you would like more information on choosing the right toothbrush, 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 “Sizing Up Toothbrushes.”
This website includes materials that are protected by copyright, or other proprietary rights. Transmission or reproduction of protected items beyond that allowed by fair use, as defined in the copyright laws, requires the written permission of the copyright owners.