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.”
In many ways, the teenage years are the best time to have orthodontic treatment. It’s a good time emotionally because your teen is likely to have friends who also wear braces; orthodontic treatment becomes a rite of passage they can go through together. It’s also advantageous in a physical sense because all 20 baby teeth have come out, and most of the 32 adult teeth (except the 4 wisdom teeth) have emerged. At the same time, especially with younger teens, jaw growth is not yet complete — allowing orthodontists to harness the growing body’s natural adaptability. We can use a variety of appliances to do that — some of which weren’t around a generation ago!
In many cases, traditional metal braces are still the best way to achieve the desired results. However, these are not the “train tracks” of old. Braces are smaller and lighter, with brackets that are cemented to the front surfaces of teeth rather than to bands that encircle the entire tooth (except in the very back). Braces can be made much less noticeable by using ceramic brackets that are clear or tooth-colored; however, ceramic brackets are easier to break than metal. An even stealthier way to undergo orthodontic treatment is with clear aligners. These removable clear plastic “trays” are custom made with the help of computer software that divides the treatment process into two-week stages. After each two-week period, the tray is changed and the next stage of movement takes place until the teeth are in correct alignment. The Invisalign system has two modifications especially for teens: “eruption tabs” that hold space open for emerging molars, and “compliance indicators” that can tell parents and orthodontists if the teen is keeping the trays in for the prescribed amount of time. We’d be happy to discuss whether clear aligners would be an option for your child.
Keeping It Clean
No matter which type of appliance is used, oral hygiene becomes even more important during orthodontic treatment. Wearing braces presents special challenges in terms of keeping teeth clean; however, it’s extremely important to do an effective job every day so that gums do not become inflamed and cavities do not develop. It’s far easier to clean teeth with clear aligners, which can be removed, but the aligners themselves can build up bacteria, leading to the same types of oral health issues if they are not cleaned each day.
Making It Count
Another way in which orthodontic treatment will not vary regardless of the type of appliance chosen is the necessity of a retention phase. Everyone who has their teeth straightened (and this goes for adults and younger kids, too) must wear a retainer to hold the teeth in their new and improved alignment while new bone grows around them. Yes, braces are easier to wear than they used to be… but no one wants to wear them twice!
If you have questions about braces for your teen, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Clear Aligners for Teenagers” and “The Magic of Orthodontics.”
In summer, there is no shortage of occasions to show off your smile. Whether attending a wedding, graduation celebration, family reunion or neighborhood barbecue, you’ll want to look your best. But if your smile doesn’t shine as brightly as you’d like, a trip to the dental office may just be the confidence-booster you’re looking for. Here are some popular techniques to enhance your smile:
Teeth cleaning. A professional cleaning can make your mouth feel fresh and add sparkle to your smile. The dental hygienist uses special tools to get rid of plaque and tartar that you cannot remove during your oral hygiene routine at home. In addition, hygienists use a tooth-polishing tool that removes surface stains.
Professional whitening. Professional teeth whitening can achieve excellent results in one short office visit. But if you have several weeks before the big event on your calendar, you can also get winning results at home using custom-made whitening trays from the dental office. Either way, your smile can sparkle at summer celebrations.
Cosmetic bonding. If your teeth have small chips or cracks, cosmetic bonding may be a good option for you. In bonding, tooth-colored material is shaped to the tooth and hardened with a curing light. The procedure—generally done in one office visit without anesthesia—is relatively inexpensive, and the result is very natural-looking.
Porcelain veneers. If you are unhappy with the color, shape, size or spacing of your teeth, long-lasting dental veneers can give your smile a whole new look. Veneers are wafer-thin porcelain shells that are bonded to the tooth’s surface. Because they may be crafted in a dental lab, they may require two to three visits to the dental office over a few-week period.
With so many options, it’s easy to put your best smile forward at all your summer gatherings. We can help. If you have any questions about brightening your smile, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Teeth Whitening” and “Porcelain Veneers.”
How many actresses have portrayed a neuroscientist on a wildly successful TV comedy while actually holding an advanced degree in neuroscience? As far as we know, exactly one: Mayim Bialik, who plays the lovably geeky Amy Farrah Fowler on CBS' The Big Bang Theory… and earned her PhD from UCLA.
Acknowledging her nerdy side, Bialik recently told Dear Doctor magazine, “I'm different, and I can't not be different.” Yet when it comes to her family's oral health, she wants the same things we all want: good checkups and great-looking smiles. “We're big on teeth and oral care,” she said. “Flossing is really a pleasure in our house.”
How does she get her two young sons to do it?
Bialik uses convenient pre-loaded floss holders that come complete with floss and a handle. “I just keep them in a little glass right next to the toothbrushes so they're open, no one has to reach, they're just right there,” she said. “It's really become such a routine, I don't even have to ask them anymore.”
As many parents have discovered, establishing healthy routines is one of the best things you can do to maintain your family's oral health. Here are some other oral hygiene tips you can try at home:
Brush to the music — Plenty of pop songs are about two minutes long… and that's the length of time you should brush your teeth. If brushing in silence gets boring, add a soundtrack. When the music's over — you're done!
Flossing can be fun — If standard dental floss doesn't appeal, there are many different styles of floss holders, from functional ones to cartoon characters… even some with a martial-arts theme! Find the one that your kids like best, and encourage them to use it.
The eyes don't lie — To show your kids how well (or not) they are cleaning their teeth, try using an over-the-counter disclosing solution. This harmless product will temporarily stain any plaque or debris that got left behind after brushing, so they can immediately see where they missed, and how to improve their hygiene technique — which will lead to better health.
Have regular dental exams & cleanings — When kids see you're enthusiastic about going to the dental office, it helps them feel the same way… and afterward, you can point out how great it feels to have a clean, sparkling smile.
If you think gum disease only happens to the other guy (or gal), think again. If you’re over 30 you have a 50-50 chance for an infection. After 65 the risk climbs to 70 percent.
Fortunately, we can effectively treat most cases of gum disease. But depending on its severity, treatment can involve numerous intensive sessions and possible surgery to bring the disease under control. So, why not prevent gum disease before it happens?
First, though, let’s look at how gum disease most often begins—with dental plaque, a thin film of bacteria and food particles built up on teeth and gum surfaces. If plaque isn’t consistently removed through daily brushing and flossing, it doesn’t take long—just a few days—for the bacteria to infect the gums.
While it’s not always easy to detect gum disease early on, there are signs to look for like red, swollen and tender gums that bleed easily when you brush or floss, and bad breath or taste. The infection is usually more advanced if you notice pus-filled areas around your gums or loose teeth. If you see any of these (especially advanced signs like loose teeth) you should contact us as soon as possible.
Obviously, the name of the game with prevention is stopping plaque buildup, mainly through daily brushing and flossing. Technique is the key to effectiveness, especially with brushing: you should gently but thoroughly scrub all tooth surfaces and around the gum line, coupled with flossing between teeth.
To find out how well you’re doing, you can rub your tongue along your teeth after you brush and floss—you should feel a smooth, almost squeaky sensation. You can also use plaque-disclosing agents that dye bacterial plaque a particular color so you can easily see surface areas you’ve missed. You can also ask us for a “report card” on how well you’re doing during your next dental visit.
Dental visits, of course, are the other essential part of gum disease prevention—at least every six months (or more, if we recommend) for cleaning and checkups. Not only will we be able to remove hard-to-reach plaque and tartar, we’ll also give your gums a thorough assessment. By following this prevention regimen you’ll increase your chances of not becoming a gum disease statistic.
If you would like more information on recognizing and treating 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 “How Gum Disease Gets Started.”
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