Once consigned to an extraordinary divine intervention, the term "miracle" is often used today for anything out of the ordinary. But even if the usage has become a little worn, there are things that, though not of supernatural origin, may still deserve the description. In that regard, today's surgical techniques to correct lip or palate clefts and the impact they can have on lives is well-nigh miraculous.
Before the 1950s, though, there was little that could be done to correct these kinds of birth defects. That all changed, though, with a "bolt from the blue" discovery by a military doctor over a half century ago. During Cleft & Craniofacial Awareness & Prevention Month this July, we recognize that doctor's breakthrough insight and the vast progress since then in cleft reconstruction surgery.
Affecting more than 4,000 babies each year, clefts develop during early pregnancy as portions of the face, typically the lips or extending into the palate, don't completely unite with each other. As a result, gaps (clefts) occur where the tissues should be uniform, forming on one side of the face or both.
Clefts can have a harmful effect on a baby's ability to feed or even breathe, and they can interfere with speech development as the child gets older. But what may cause the most emotional pain is the alteration of a person's normal appearance, which may inhibit their ability to socially interact with others.
But a child today with a lip or palate cleft can reclaim a more normal appearance through a series of surgical repairs. The genesis for this began when a U.S. Naval surgeon named Ralph Millard stationed in Korea in 1950 noticed something when studying photographs of his cleft patients. He realized there was no missing tissue with a cleft—all the "parts" were still there and only needed to be "rearranged" surgically.
Today's surgeons do just that, having built modern cleft correction on Dr. Millard's original procedures. And although it involves multiple procedures and often a team of surgeons, dentists and orthodontists, the end result is life-changing.
As amazing as these results may be, cleft correction is a process that can take years, taxing the stamina of both patients and their families. But with ample support, a child with a cleft now has a chance to enter adulthood with a normal smile and appearance. If anything deserves the title "miracle," surely cleft reconstruction surgery does.
If you would like more information about cleft treatment and reconstruction, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “Cleft Lip & Cleft Palate.”
During election season, you'll often hear celebrities encouraging you to vote. But this year, Kaia Gerber, an up-and-coming model following the career path of her mother Cindy Crawford, made a unique election appeal—while getting her wisdom teeth removed.
With ice packs secured to her jaw, Gerber posted a selfie to social media right after her surgery. The caption read, “We don't need wisdom teeth to vote wisely.”
That's great advice—electing our leaders is one of the most important choices we make as a society. But Gerber's post also highlights another decision that bears careful consideration, whether or not to have your wisdom teeth removed.
Found in the very back of the mouth, wisdom teeth (or “third molars”) are usually the last of the permanent teeth to erupt between ages 17 and 25. But although their name may be a salute to coming of age, in reality wisdom teeth can be a pain. Because they're usually last to the party, they're often erupting in a jaw already crowded with teeth. Such a situation can be a recipe for numerous dental problems.
Crowded wisdom teeth may not erupt properly and remain totally or partially hidden within the gums (impaction). As such, they can impinge on and damage the roots of neighboring teeth, and can make overall hygiene more difficult, increasing the risk of dental disease. They can also help pressure other teeth out of position, resulting in an abnormal bite.
Because of this potential for problems, it's been a common practice in dentistry to remove wisdom teeth preemptively before any problems arise. As a result, wisdom teeth extractions are the top oral surgical procedure performed, with around 10 million of them removed every year.
But that practice is beginning to wane, as many dentists are now adopting more of a “wait and see” approach. If the wisdom teeth show signs of problems—impaction, tooth decay, gum disease or bite influence—removal is usually recommended. If not, though, the wisdom teeth are closely monitored during adolescence and early adulthood. If no problems develop, they may be left intact.
This approach works best if you maintain regular dental cleanings and checkups. During these visits, we'll be able to consistently evaluate the overall health of your mouth, particularly in relation to your wisdom teeth.
Just as getting information on candidates helps you decide your vote, this approach of watchful waiting can help us recommend the best course for your wisdom teeth. Whether you vote your wisdom teeth “in” or “out,” you'll be able to do it wisely.
So, when should you begin taking measures to prevent tooth decay in your child's teeth? When their teeth first begin to show? When all of their primary (baby) teeth are in? Or, wait until their permanent teeth begin erupting?
Actually, tooth decay can be a problem as early as two months of age, before a child's first tooth even comes in. In essence, then, dental disease prevention should be on your radar soon after your child is born. Here's what you can do to prevent the damage of tooth decay to their teeth now and its impact on their dental health in the future.
Start oral hygiene during nursing. Brushing and flossing are lifetime habits that reduce the risk of dental disease. When your children are young, you'll have to perform these tasks for them, ultimately training them to perform them on their own. But even earlier, before their first tooth, you'll want to clean their gums after feedings with a wet cloth to reduce disease-causing bacteria.
Initiate dental visits by age 1. It's appropriate on or before their first birthday, when most children already have a few primary teeth, to begin regular dental visits for cleanings and checkups. Seeing the dentist every six months at an early age will help your child stay well ahead of tooth decay. And starting visits early increases the likelihood it will become a regular part of their lives into adulthood.
Protect against decay. You and your dentist are partners in protecting your child from dental disease. Besides daily oral hygiene, you can also help by providing a dental-friendly diet, and especially restricting sugary snacks and avoiding sweetened liquids in bedtime bottles (including breast milk or formula). In addition to routine care, your dentist can also provide other measures to fight decay, like sealants or topical fluoride.
It's also important for you to set an example for your child to follow. Children soak up what's important to their parents—in this case, watching you take care of your teeth and seeing the dentist as a friend and ally against dental disease. That's your end goal: preventing dental disease now, and instilling the value of dental care that will last your child a lifetime.
If you would like more information on helping your child avoid 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 “Taking the Stress Out of Dentistry for Kids.”
A few months into wearing braces you may notice your gums are swollen. It's likely you've developed periodontal (gum) disease.
Gum disease is a bacterial infection that usually begins with dental plaque. This thin, accumulated biofilm on teeth is filled with bacteria that cause dental disease. The more of it that remains on your teeth, the higher your risk for a gum infection.
In addition to regular dental cleanings, the best way for a person to reduce their gum disease risk is to remove plaque on a daily basis through brushing and flossing. Unfortunately, wearing braces complicates this: The brackets and wires affixed to your teeth can get in the way of your toothbrush and regular dental floss. As a result, you can easily miss plaque hidden around these bits of hardware.
Aside from gum disease, the braces themselves can irritate your gums. This irritation inflames the gums and may even cause more tissue to grow. Compound this overgrowth with a possible gum infection and it's no wonder your gums are severely swollen.
To lessen the chances of swollen gums with braces, you'll need to beef up your daily hygiene efforts. Simply put, it will typically take more time than normal to thoroughly clean around your braces. A few specialized tools, though, might make it easier.
An interproximal brush with a narrower head than a regular toothbrush is useful for accessing tight places around brackets. And a floss threader or a water flosser (which uses pressurized water to loosen and remove plaque) may help you better maneuver around wires to remove plaque between teeth.
Keeping your teeth clean as possible will certainly help you avoid gum swelling due to disease. But swelling from tissue overgrowth may not be resolved until your braces come off. In severe cases, it may even be necessary to remove the braces to treat the gums before resuming orthodontic treatment.
In any case, be as thorough as possible with your oral hygiene efforts during orthodontics and see your regular dentist for cleanings every six months. When you have completed orthodontic treatment, cleanings every six months are usually recommended. It's the best way to keep your gums healthy while you're wearing braces.
If you would like more information on dental care while wearing braces, 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 Swelling During Orthodontics.”
You could have an unattractive smile because of a chipped tooth or one slightly out of alignment. Or, it could be both of the above, plus some heavy staining to boot. Correcting each flaw individually might require a combination of different methods like orthodontics or porcelain crowns, which can take an extended period of time to complete.
But you may be able to correct numerous smile flaws with just one method—and in no more than a couple of treatment visits. It's called direct veneers.
Unlike regular veneers, direct veneers don't require a dental technician to craft a thin porcelain shell to bond over teeth. Rather, a dentist applies a tooth-colored material called composite resin to the problem teeth and "sculpts" an entirely new look that can correct multiple dental flaws at one time.
The dentist usually begins the process by creating a model ("wax-up") of proposed changes based on physical impressions of the jaw and teeth. Both dentist and patient can study the model and modify it if necessary, when finalizing the treatment plan.
At a subsequent appointment, the dentist prepares the tooth surface for bonding by removing a thin layer of tooth enamel, then shapes the teeth to better accommodate the composite resin. This tooth prep is similar to that done with traditional veneers, so it's permanent—the teeth will require some form of restoration from then on.
After applying an etchant and a bonding agent, the dentist applies the composite resin in small amounts, hardening each layer with a special light before applying the next one. With each subsequent layer, the dentist sculps the composite material to eventually resemble the wax-up model.
After completing the composite application, the dentist then uses hand tools and a dental drill to complete shaping, as well as an abrasive strip between teeth to aid future flossing. After just a few hours, the transformation is complete.
Direct veneers are durable, but not to the same extent as regular veneers or other cosmetic enhancements. They can also pick up stains over time, and may require re-treatment at some point. Still, direct veneers are a cost-effective way to improve the appearance of teeth with multiple flaws that could radically change your smile for the better.
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