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.
Periodontal (gum) disease is as common as it is destructive. Almost half of all adults 30 and older have some form—and those numbers increase to nearly three-quarters by age 65.
Fortunately, we have effective ways to treat this bacterial infection, especially if we catch it early. By thoroughly removing all plaque, the disease-causing, bacterial biofilm that accumulates on tooth surfaces, we can stop the infection and help the gums return to normal.
Unfortunately, though, you're at a greater risk for a repeat infection if you've already had gum disease. To lower your chances of future occurrences, we'll need to take your regular dental exams and cleanings to another level.
Although everyone benefits from routine dental care, if you've had gum disease you may see these and other changes in your normal dental visits.
More frequent visits. For most people, the frequency norm between dental cleanings and exams is about six months. But we may recommend more visits for you as a former gum disease patient: depending on the advancement of your disease, we might see you every three months once you've completed your initial treatment, and if your treatment required a periodontist, we may alternate maintenance appointments every three months.
Other treatments and medications. To control any increases in disease-causing bacteria, dentists may prescribe on-going medications or anti-bacterial applications. If you're on medication, we'll use your regular dental visits to monitor how well they're doing and modify your prescriptions as needed.
Long-term planning. Both dentist and patient must keep an eye out for the ongoing threat of another gum infection. It's helpful then to develop a plan for maintaining periodontal health and then revisiting and updating that plan as necessary. It may also be beneficial to perform certain procedures on the teeth and gums to make it easier to keep them clean in the future.
While everyone should take their oral health seriously, there's even greater reason to increase your vigilance if you've already had gum disease. With a little extra care, you can greatly reduce your chances of another bout with this destructive and aggressive disease.
If you would like more information on preventing recurring gum disease, 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 “Periodontal Cleanings.”
Fans of the legendary rock band Steely Dan received some sad news a few months ago: Co-founder Walter Becker died unexpectedly at the age of 67. The cause of his death was an aggressive form of esophageal cancer. This disease, which is related to oral cancer, may not get as much attention as some others. Yet Becker's name is the latest addition to the list of well-known people whose lives it has cut short—including actor Humphrey Bogart, writer Christopher Hitchens, and TV personality Richard Dawson.
As its name implies, esophageal cancer affects the esophagus: the long, hollow tube that joins the throat to the stomach. Solid and liquid foods taken into the mouth pass through this tube on their way through the digestive system. Worldwide, it is the sixth most common cause of cancer deaths.
Like oral cancer, esophageal cancer generally does not produce obvious symptoms in its early stages. As a result, by the time these diseases are discovered, both types of cancer are most often in their later stages, and often prove difficult to treat successfully. Another similarity is that dentists can play an important role in oral and esophageal cancer detection.
Many people see dentists more often than any other health care professionals—at recommended twice-yearly checkups, for example. During routine examinations, we check the mouth, tongue, neck and throat for possible signs of oral cancer. These may include lumps, swellings, discolorations, and other abnormalities—which, fortunately, are most often harmless. Other symptoms, including persistent coughing or hoarseness, difficulty swallowing, and unexplained weight loss, are common to both oral and esophageal cancer. Chest pain, worsening heartburn or indigestion and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can also alert us to the possibility of esophageal cancer.
Cancer may be a scary subject—but early detection and treatment can offer many people the best possible outcome. If you have questions about oral or esophageal cancer, call our office or schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Oral Cancer.”
Besides attractively showcasing your teeth, your gums protect your teeth and underlying bone from bacteria and abrasive food particles. Sometimes, though, the gums can pull back or recede from the teeth, leaving them exposed and vulnerable to damage and disease.
Here are 4 things that could contribute to gum recession—and what you can do about them.
Periodontal (gum) disease. This family of aggressive gum infections is by far the most common cause for recession. Triggered mainly by bacterial plaque, gum disease can cause the gums to detach and then recede from the teeth. To prevent gum disease, you should practice daily brushing and flossing and see your dentist at least twice a year to thoroughly remove plaque. And see your dentist as soon as possible for diagnosis and treatment at the first sign of red, swollen or bleeding gums.
Tooth position. While a tooth normally erupts surrounded by bone, sometimes it erupts out of correct alignment and is therefore outside the bony housing and protective gum tissue. Orthodontic treatment to move teeth to better positions can correct this problem, as well as stimulate the gum tissues around the involved teeth to thicken and become more resistant to recession.
Thin gum tissues. Thin gum tissues, a quality you inherit from your parents, are more susceptible to wear and tear and so more likely to recede. If you have thin gum tissues you'll need to stay on high alert for any signs of disease or problems. And you should also be mindful of our next common cause, which is….
Overaggressive hygiene. While it seems counterintuitive, brushing doesn't require a lot of "elbow grease" to remove plaque. A gentle scrubbing motion over all your tooth surfaces is usually sufficient. On the other hand, applying too much force (or brushing too often) can damage your gums over time and cause them to recede. And as we alluded to before, this is especially problematic for people with thinner gum tissues. So brush gently but thoroughly to protect your gums.
If you would like more information on treating gum recession, 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 Recession.”
There’s one sure thing about tooth decay: you can’t ignore it. In fact, the best outcomes result from finding it early and treating it before it enters the pulp in the center of the tooth, often a filling or similar treatment.
If it does advance to the pulp, you may need a root canal treatment to save the tooth. This is a moderately invasive procedure where we access the pulp and root canals, tiny passageways leading to the root and supporting bone. We then remove all the diseased tissue and fill the empty pulp chamber and root canals with a special filling. Later we’ll crown the tooth for added protection against future infection or fracture of the tooth.
But there’s also another less-invasive method than a root canal called pulp capping. It’s only appropriate to use, however, if the pulp has become exposed or almost exposed by decay, but hasn’t yet shown signs of disease.
Pulp capping can be either direct or indirect. We use direct pulp capping if the healthy pulp has been exposed by the disease process. We first isolate the tooth from the rest of the mouth to prevent contamination and then proceed to remove all of the tooth’s decayed dentin structure. We then apply a biocompatible material directly over the pulp to protect it from further decay and to facilitate healing. We then restore the tooth, usually with a filling, to its proper function and life-like appearance.
When the pulp is threatened by decay but not yet exposed, we may then use the indirect method. In this approach we first remove most of the decayed dentin, but leave a small amount next to the pulp to keep it covered. We then treat this remaining dentin with a material to help it heal and re-mineralize, followed by a temporary filling of the tooth. A few months later we’ll remove this filling and inspect the treated dentin. If it has regenerated sufficiently, we remove any remaining decay and permanently restore the tooth.
As we said, pulp capping is only used with patients with deep decay whose pulp tissue is healthy. But when we can use it we can avoid some of the permanent alterations that often come with a root canal treatment and still save the tooth.
If you would like more information on treatments 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 “Pulp Capping: A Procedure that May Save a Decayed Tooth.”
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