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.”
The sooner you get treated for tooth decay, the less likely you'll lose your tooth. That could mean a simple filling—or you might need a root canal treatment if decay has reached the inner pulp.
There's also another procedure for advanced decay called pulp capping. It's a bit more involved than filling a cavity but less so than a root canal. We can use it if decay has exposed or nearly exposed the pulp, but not yet infected it—otherwise, you may still need a root canal treatment to remove the diseased pulp tissue.
There are two types of pulp capping methods, direct and indirect. We use direct pulp capping if the pulp has been exposed by decay. After isolating the tooth to protect other teeth from contamination, we remove all of the decayed dentin up to the pulp. This may cause some bleeding, which we'll stop, and then clean and dry the tooth area.
We'll then apply a protective biocompatible material directly over the pulp to promote healing and protect it from further infection. We then restore the tooth's appearance and function with a life-like filling.
We use the indirect method, a two-part process separated by six to eight months, when the pulp tissue is close to the surface but not yet exposed. We initially remove the majority of decayed tooth structure, but leave some of it in place next to the pulp chamber. Although this remaining dentin is softened and decayed, we'll treat it with antibacterial chemicals, then cover it with a biocompatible material and a temporary filling.
Over the next several months the treated structure has a chance to re-mineralize as it heals. We then remove the temporary filling and assess the level of healing progress. If the regenerated dentin appears healthy, we can then remove any remaining decay and restore the teeth as we would after a direct pulp capping.
At the very least, pulp capping could buy your affected tooth time before a root canal will finally be needed. Under the right circumstances, it's an effective way to save an otherwise lost tooth.
If you would like more information on tooth decay treatments, 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 “Pulp Capping: A Procedure that may Save a Decayed Tooth.”
As Spring turns to Summer, millions of students will depart high school in the time-honored rite of passage called graduation. At the same time, quite a few of these graduates will be experiencing another maturity milestone: the eruption (coming in) of their last permanent teeth.
Typically, these are the back third molars, better known as “wisdom teeth,” emerging on either end of both the top and bottom jaws sometime between the ages of 18 and 24. Their arrival heralds the end of a long development process that began in infancy.
But this auspicious event can give rise to dental problems. Because they’re the last to come in, wisdom teeth often erupt in an environment crowded by earlier teeth. Depending on jaw size and other factors, there may not be enough room for a normal eruption.
Wisdom teeth can thus erupt out of position, creating a poor bite (malocclusion). Or they might not erupt at all—becoming stuck fully or partially within the gums and bone, a condition known as impaction. Impacted teeth can also cause problems for the adjacent teeth, damaging the roots of the second molars or disrupting the surrounding gum tissue, making them more susceptible to periodontal (gum) disease.
Because of these and other issues, impacted wisdom teeth are among the most common type of teeth removed: an estimated 10 million each year. And many of these are removed before they show signs of disease or complications as a preemptive strike against developing dental problems.
Although unnecessary surgery should always be avoided, according to some research, there’s a one in three chance that erupting wisdom teeth that are not showing signs of trouble will eventually become problematic. And the earlier they’re removed, the lower the risk of post-extraction complications.
Wisdom teeth should always be evaluated on a case by case basis. Those with obvious signs of disease or complications do require prompt treatment, including possible extraction. Others that are asymptomatic can be monitored over time: If they’re tending to become problematic, we can adjust the treatment plan accordingly. Our goal is to ensure these particular teeth signaling the end of childhood won’t detract from dental health in adulthood, so a measured approach seems to be the best and safest one.
If you would like more information on treatment options for wisdom teeth, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Wisdom Teeth: Coming of Age May Come With a Dilemma” and “Wisdom Teeth: To Be or Not to Be?”
Want to know the exact wrong way to pry open a stubborn lid? Just ask Jimmy Fallon, host of NBC-TV’s popular “Tonight Show.” When the 40-year-old funnyman had trouble opening a tube of scar tissue repair gel with his hands, he decided to try using his teeth.
What happened next wasn’t funny: Attempting to remove the cap, Fallon chipped his front tooth, adding another medical problem to the serious finger injury he suffered a few weeks before (the same wound he was trying to take care of with the gel). If there’s a moral to this story, it might be this: Use the right tool for the job… and that tool isn’t your teeth!
Yet Fallon is hardly alone in his dilemma. According to the American Association of Endodontists, chipped teeth account for the majority of dental injuries. Fortunately, modern dentistry offers a number of great ways to restore damaged teeth.
If the chip is relatively small, it’s often possible to fix it with cosmetic bonding. In this procedure, tough, natural-looking resin is used to fill in the part of the tooth that has been lost. Built up layer by layer, the composite resin is cured with a special light until it’s hard, shiny… and difficult to tell from your natural teeth. Best of all, cosmetic bonding can often be done in one office visit, with little or no discomfort. It can last for up to ten years, so it’s great for kids who may be getting more permanent repairs later.
For larger chips or cracks, veneers or crowns may be suggested. Veneers are wafer-thin porcelain coverings that go over the entire front surface of one or more teeth. They can be used to repair minor to moderate defects, such as chips, discolorations, or spacing irregularities. They can also give you the “Hollywood white” smile you’ve seen on many celebrities.
Veneers are generally custom-made in a lab, and require more than one office visit. Because a small amount of tooth structure must be removed in order to put them in place, veneers are considered an irreversible treatment. But durable and long-lasting veneers are the restorations of choice for many people.
Crowns (also called caps) are used when even more of the tooth structure is missing. They can replace the entire visible part of the tooth, as long as the tooth’s roots remain viable. Crowns, like veneers, are custom-fabricated to match your teeth in size, shape and color; they are generally made in a dental lab and require more than one office visit. However, teeth restored with crowns function well, look natural, and can last for many years.
So what happened to Jimmy Fallon? We aren’t sure which restoration he received… but we do know that he was back on TV the same night, flashing a big smile.
If you would like more information about tooth restorations, please contact us or schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Porcelain Crowns & Veneers” and “Artistic Repair Of Front Teeth With Composite Resin.”
There is a primary principle dentists follow regarding tooth decay—treat it as soon as you find it. Something as simple and routine as filling a cavity could prevent future tooth loss.
But treating a cavity at or below the gum line could be anything but simple and routine. Older adults who may also be dealing with gum recession are more likely to have these kinds of cavities where the gums block clear access to it.
But there is a way to access gum-covered cavities with a minor surgical procedure known as crown lengthening. Crown lengthening is commonly used in cosmetic dentistry to expose more of the visible teeth when there's an overabundance of gum tissue or if the teeth are disproportionately small. We can use it in this instance to surgically relocate the blocking gum tissue out of the way of the cavity.
After numbing the area with local anesthesia, tiny incisions will be made in the gums to create a tissue flap. After reshaping the underlying bone to recreate normal anatomy but at a different level, this flap is then moved and sutured to a new position. This exposes enough tooth structure so that the cavity can be repaired after gum healing.
As with any minor surgery, there's a very slight risk of bleeding and/or infection with crown lengthening. If you undergo this procedure, you'll receive post-care instructions for the first few days afterward including avoiding strenuous activities, eating only soft foods and using an ice pack the day of surgery to help control swelling.
This versatile procedure can help save a tooth that might otherwise be lost due to decay. And, it might even improve your appearance.
If you would like more information on treatment options for 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 “Crown Lengthening: This Common Surgical Procedure Restores Function and Improves Appearance.”
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