About one American baby in 700 is born with some form of lip or palate cleft—and the percentage is even higher in other parts of the world. At one time this kind of birth defect sentenced a child to a lifetime of social stigma and related health issues. But thanks to a surgical breakthrough over sixty years ago, cleft defects are now routinely treated and repaired.
Oral and facial clefts happen because a child’s facial structure fails to develop normally during pregnancy. This causes gaps or “clefts” to occur in various parts of the mouth or face like the upper lip, the palate (roof of the mouth), the nose or (more rarely) in the cheek or eye region. Clefts can have no tissue fusion at all (a “complete” cleft) or a limited amount (an “incomplete” cleft), and can affect only one side of the face (“unilateral”) or both (“bilateral”).
There was little that could be done up until the early 1950s. That’s when a U.S. Navy surgeon, Dr. Ralph Millard, stationed in Korea noticed after reviewing a series of cleft photos that tissue needed to repair a cleft was most often already present but distorted by the defect. From that discovery, he developed techniques that have since been refined in the ensuing decades to release the distorted tissue and move it to its proper location.
This revolutionary breakthrough has evolved into a multi-stage approach for cleft repair that often requires a team effort from several dental and medical professionals, including oral surgeons, orthodontists and general dentists. The approach may involve successive surgeries over several years with dental care front and center to minimize the threat of decay, maintain proper occlusion (the interaction between the upper and lower teeth, or “bite”), or restore missing teeth with crowns, bridgework or eventually dental implants.
While it’s quite possible this process can span a person’s entire childhood and adolescence, the end result is well worth it. Because of these important surgical advances, a cleft defect is no longer a life sentence of misery.
If you would like more information on treatment for a cleft lip or palate, 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.”
The March 27th game started off pretty well for NBA star Kevin Love. His team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, were coming off a 5-game winning streak as they faced the Miami Heat that night. Less than two minutes into the contest, Love charged in for a shot on Heat center Jordan Mickey—but instead of a basket, he got an elbow in the face that sent him to the floor (and out of the game) with an injury to his mouth.
In pictures from the aftermath, Love’s front tooth seemed clearly out of position. According to the Cavs’ official statement, “Love suffered a front tooth subluxation.” But what exactly does that mean, and how serious is his injury?
The dental term “subluxation” refers to one specific type of luxation injury—a situation where a tooth has become loosened or displaced from its proper location. A subluxation is an injury to tooth-supporting structures such as the periodontal ligament: a stretchy network of fibrous tissue that keeps the tooth in its socket. The affected tooth becomes abnormally loose, but as long as the nerves inside the tooth and the underlying bone have not been damaged, it generally has a favorable prognosis.
Treatment of a subluxation injury may involve correcting the tooth’s position immediately and/or stabilizing the tooth—often by temporarily splinting (joining) it to adjacent teeth—and maintaining a soft diet for a few weeks. This gives the injured tissues a chance to heal and helps the ligament regain proper attachment to the tooth. The condition of tooth’s pulp (soft inner tissue) must also be closely monitored; if it becomes infected, root canal treatment may be needed to preserve the tooth.
So while Kevin Love’s dental dilemma might have looked scary in the pictures, with proper care he has a good chance of keeping the tooth. Significantly, Love acknowledged on Twitter that the damage “…could have been so much worse if I wasn’t protected with [a] mouthguard.”
Love’s injury reminds us that whether they’re played at a big arena, a high school gym or an outdoor court, sports like basketball (as well as baseball, football and many others) have a high potential for facial injuries. That’s why all players should wear a mouthguard whenever they’re in the game. Custom-made mouthguards, available for a reasonable cost at the dental office, are the most comfortable to wear, and offer protection that’s superior to the kind available at big-box retailers.
If you have questions about dental injuries or custom-made mouthguards, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “The Field-Side Guide to Dental Injuries” and “Athletic Mouthguards.”
Your baby will grow into an adult so rapidly it will seem like they're changing right before your eyes. And some of the biggest changes will happen with their teeth, gums and jaw structure.
Unfortunately, disease or a traumatic accident could short-circuit this natural process and potentially create future dental problems. Here are 4 things you should be doing now to protect your baby's long-term dental health.
Start oral hygiene now. Even if your baby has no visible teeth, there may still be something else in their mouth—bacteria, which could trigger future tooth decay. To reduce bacteria clean their gums with a clean, wet cloth after each feeding. When teeth begin to appear switch to brushing with just a smear of toothpaste on the brush to minimize what they swallow.
Make your baby's first dental appointment. Beginning dental visits around your baby's first birthday will not only give us a head start on preventing or treating tooth decay, but could also give us a better chance of detecting other developing issues like a poor bite (malocclusion). Early dental visits also help get your child used to them as routine and increase the likelihood they'll continue the habit as adults.
Watch their sugar. Bacteria love sugar. So much so, they'll multiply—and more bacteria mean an increase in one of their by-products, mouth acid. Increased mouth acid can erode tooth enamel and open the way for decay. So, limit sugary snacks to only meal time and don't give them sugary drinks (including juices, breast milk or formula) in a bottle immediately before or while they sleep.
Childproof your home. A number of studies have shown that half of all accidents to teeth in children younger than 7 happen from falling on home furniture. So, take precautions by covering sharp edges or hard surfaces on chairs, tables or sofas, or situate your child's play areas away from furniture. And when they get older and wish to participate in sports activities purchase a custom mouthguard to protect their teeth from hard knocks—an investment well worth the cost.
If you would like more information on dental care for your child, 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 “Top 10 Oral Health Tips for Children.”
Transforming your smile doesn’t necessarily require complex treatments like orthodontics, dental implants or porcelain veneers. Sometimes a little brightness can mean all the difference in the world.
Bleaching (or teeth whitening) is a proven method for dealing with tooth discoloration and staining. Nearly all whitening products, whether home or professional, contain the bleaching agent carbamide peroxide or its breakdown product hydrogen peroxide. These agents effectively diminish staining deep within a tooth (intrinsic) or on the enamel surface (extrinsic), although intrinsic staining will require a more invasive office procedure.
If you have extrinsic staining you have three basic options: dental office bleaching, a retail home kit or a kit purchased from a dentist. Again, you’ll find the same basic bleaching agents in each of these versions. The difference will be the concentration: home kits contain about 10% agent by volume, while the office application will be a much higher range of 15% to 35% (which may also employ specialized lights or lasers to increase the bleaching effect). As a result, an office bleaching may take only a visit or two to achieve the desired brightness while a home kit about two or three weeks.
Whitening is a more economical route for smile enhancement of otherwise sound teeth than other measures. But there are other considerations you should weigh before undergoing a procedure. Whitening isn’t a permanent fix — the brightness will diminish over time, optimally six months to a year in what dentists call the “fade rate.” You can slow this process by avoiding or limiting foods and habits that cause staining.
If you have other dental work — crowns, bridgework or fillings — it may be difficult to achieve a tint level that matches these restorations, especially at home. And while whitening is relatively safe (as long as you’re using your kit as directed), you may experience tooth sensitivity, gum irritation or other minor oral side effects.
Before you decide on whitening, visit us first for a complete dental examination. From there we can advise you on whether whitening is a good smile enhancement choice for you.
If you would like more information on teeth whitening, 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 “Teeth Whitening.”
It’s often best health-wise to preserve even the most troubled tooth—including a child’s primary (“baby”) tooth. If that sounds like too much effort for a tooth that lasts only a few years, there’s a big reason why—if it’s lost prematurely, the incoming permanent tooth above it could erupt out of position.
Preserving a decayed primary tooth could include procedures similar to a root canal treatment, commonly used in adult permanent teeth with inner decay. However, we may need to modify this approach to protect the primary tooth’s pulp. This innermost layer plays a critical role in early dental development.
Because an adult tooth has reached maturity, removing diseased pulp tissue has little effect on its permanent health. But the pulp contributes to dentin growth (the layer between it and the outer enamel) in primary and young permanent teeth, so removing it could ultimately compromise the tooth’s long-term health.
Our goal then with a child’s tooth is to remove as much diseased tissue as possible while involving the pulp as little as possible. What techniques we use will depend on how much of the pulp has become infected.
For example, if decay has advanced to but hasn’t yet penetrated the pulp, we may remove all but a small amount of the decayed structure just next to the pulp to avoid its exposure. We may then apply an antibacterial agent to this remaining portion and seal the tooth to curb further infection.
If on the other hand the pulp has become infected, we may try to remove only the infected portion and leave the remaining pulp intact. We’ll only be able to do this, however, if we deem the remaining pulp healthy enough to remain infection-free after the procedure. If not, we may need to remove the entire pulp as with a traditional root canal. This option, though, is a last resort due to the possible effect on dentin growth and the tooth’s long-term health.
As you can see attempts to preserve a primary tooth can be quite involved. But if we can help it reach its full life span, it could mean better dental health for a lifetime.
If you would like more information on caring for primary teeth, 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 “Root Canal Treatment for Children’s Teeth.”
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