One of the most common and anguish-filled birth defects is a cleft lip or palate (roof of the mouth). Not only do clefts disrupt the normality of a child’s facial appearance, they can also lead to problems with chewing, speech and the long-term health of teeth and gums.
A cleft is a tissue gap that occurs during fetal development, usually in the first trimester, in which parts of the baby’s face fail to unite. Why this occurs is not fully understood, but vitamin imbalances in the mother, exposure to radiation or other toxic environments, or infections are all believed to play a role.
Facial clefts are classified as either incomplete, in which there is some but not full tissue fusion, or complete, with no fusion at all. A cleft can be unilateral, affecting only one side of the face, or bi-lateral, affecting both sides. During infancy a cleft can adversely affect a child’s ability to nurse, and it sometimes disrupts breathing. As the child grows, speech patterns may be severely disrupted and their teeth and bite may not develop properly.
Fortunately, there have been dramatic advances in cleft repair over the past sixty years. It’s actually a process that can span a child’s entire developmental years and involve the expertise of a number of surgical and dental specialists. For a cleft lip, the initial surgical repair to realign and join the separated tissues usually occurs around three to six months of age; repair of a cleft palate (where the gap extends into the roof of the mouth) between 6 and 12 months.
Subsequent procedures may be needed in later years to refine earlier results and to accommodate the mouth’s continuing growth. At some point the treatment focus shifts to cosmetic enhancement (which can include implants, crown or bridgework) and periodontal health, to ensure gum tissues that support teeth and gums aren’t compromised by the effects of the cleft or its treatment.
At the end of this long process, something of a miracle may seem to occur: a young person’s once disfigured mouth transforms into a beautiful smile. It’s a chance for them to gain a normal life — and a new lease on physical, emotional and oral health.
Like a second New Year’s Day, the month of September offers its own chance to make a brand new start: It’s back-to-school season! This can be an exhilarating time—a chance to meet new friends, face new challenges and set new goals. It’s also a great time to get started on the things that can keep your children healthy all year long…like a routine visit to the dental office.
Preventive dental visits are one of the most important ways to help keep a smile in top condition—not just for kids, but for people of any age. They are also one of the best values in health care, because so much can be accomplished in such a short time. What exactly happens at a routine visit? Here’s a brief run-down:
- A professional teeth cleaning clears sticky plaque and hardened tartar from places where your brush can’t reach. These deposits can harbor the bacteria that cause tooth decay and gum disease, and removing them helps prevent more serious problems from getting started.
- A complete dental exam involves a check for cavities, but it’s also much more: It includes screening for gum disease, oral cancer, and other potential maladies. X-rays or other diagnostic tests may be performed at this time; any changes can be observed, and the need for preventive or restorative treatments can be evaluated.
- The growth and development of children’s teeth is carefully monitored, from the first baby teeth to the third molars. If orthodontic work or wisdom teeth removal could benefit your child, this is a great time to discuss it. Adults may also benefit from ongoing evaluation for gum recession and other potential issues.
- Keeping your teeth and gums healthy also depends on how you take care of them at home. A routine office visit is a great opportunity to “brush up” on proper techniques for tooth brushing and flossing, and to ask any questions you may have about oral hygiene.
So if you have youngsters starting a new school year—or if you’re looking to make a fresh start toward good oral health yourself—make it a point to stop in to the dental office for a routine visit this season!
If you would like more information about maintaining good oral health, please contact us or schedule an appointment. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Top 10 Oral Health Tips For Children” and “Dental Hygiene Visit: A True Value in Dental Healthcare.”
Some moviegoers have been known to crunch popcorn, bite their fingers or grab their neighbor’s hands during the intense scenes of a thriller. But for one fan, the on-screen action in the new superhero film Black Panther led to a different reaction.
Sophia Robb, an 18-year-old Californian, had to make an emergency visit to the orthodontic office because she snapped the steel wire on her retainer while watching a battle scene featuring her Hollywood crush, Michael B. Jordan. Her jaw-clenching mishap went viral and even prompted an unexpected reply from the actor himself!
Meanwhile, Sophia got her retainer fixed pronto—which was exactly the right thing to do. The retention phase is a very important part of orthodontic treatment: If you don’t wear a retainer, the beautiful new smile you’re enjoying could become crooked again. That’s because if the teeth are not held in their new positions, they will naturally begin to drift back into their former locations—and you may have to start treatment all over again…
While it’s much more common to lose a removable retainer than to damage one, it is possible for even sturdy retainers to wear out or break. This includes traditional plastic-and-wire types (also called Hawley retainers), clear plastic retainers that are molded to fit your teeth (sometimes called Essix retainers), and bonded retainers: the kind that consists of a wire that’s permanently attached to the back side of your teeth. So whichever kind you use, do what Sophia did if you feel that anything is amiss—have it looked at right away!
When Black Panther co-star Michael B. Jordan heard about the retainer mishap, he sent a message to the teen: “Since I feel partly responsible for breaking your retainers let me know if I can replace them.” His young fan was grateful for the offer—but even more thrilled to have a celebrity twitter follower.
If you have questions about orthodontic retainers, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “The Importance of Orthodontic Retainers” and “Bonded Retainers.”
Overbites, underbites, crossbites—these are just a few of the possible malocclusions (poor bites) you or a family member might be experiencing. But no matter which one, any malocclusion can cause problems.
Besides an unattractive smile, a malocclusion makes it more difficult to chew and to keep the teeth and gums clean of disease-causing bacterial plaque. Thus correcting a malocclusion improves dental health; a more attractive smile is an added bonus.
This art of correction—moving teeth back to the positions where they belong—is the focus of a dental specialty called orthodontics. And, as it has been for several decades, the workhorse for achieving this correction is traditional braces.
Braces are an assembly of metal brackets affixed to the teeth through which the orthodontist laces a metal wire. The wire is anchored in some way (commonly to the back teeth) and then tightened to apply pressure against the teeth. Over time this constant and targeted pressure gradually moves the teeth to their new desired positions.
The reason why this procedure works is because teeth can and do move naturally. Although it may seem like they’re rigidly set within the jawbone, teeth are actually held in place by an elastic tissue network known as the periodontal ligament. The ligament lies between the tooth and bone and keeps the tooth secure through tiny fibers attached to both it and the bone. But the ligament also allows teeth to continually make micro-movements in response to changes in chewing or other environmental factors.
In a sense, braces harness this tooth-moving capability like a sail captures the wind propelling a sailboat. With the constant gentle pressure from the wires regularly adjusted by the orthodontist, the periodontal ligament does the rest. If all goes according to plan, in time the teeth will move to new positions and correct the malocclusion.
In a way, braces are the original “smile makeover”—once crooked teeth can become straight and more visually appealing. More importantly, though, correcting a poor bite improves how the mouth works, especially while eating, and keeping things clean. A straighter smile isn’t just more attractive—it’s healthier.
If you would like more information on correcting misaligned 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 “Moving Teeth with Orthodontics.”
White, translucent teeth are the hallmark of a beautiful smile. But with age or the foods we eat our teeth’s natural brightness can dim to a dingy yellow.
If this is your case, you may be able to benefit from teeth whitening techniques that brighten up your less than “pearly whites.” A teeth whitening treatment from time to time could put the dazzle back in both your smile and your self-confidence.
Here, then, are 3 reasons for considering tooth whitening to improve your smile.
You might be able to do it yourself. There are a number of home whitening options (including whitening strips) that are safe and effective to use at home. But there are a couple caveats: because your dentist can use stronger bleaching solutions they may be able to perform the procedure in less time and with longer lasting results than a home kit. Also, some forms of staining originate inside a tooth—a home kit won’t help with that kind of discoloration.
It’s safe and relatively inexpensive. Home bleaching solutions aren’t strong enough to be harmful (unless you disregard the product directions) and are usually not very costly. Your dentist uses stronger solutions but with the training and curing equipment to minimize any risk to your teeth. And compared to other cosmetic treatments, dental office teeth whitening is still a relatively inexpensive option.
Dental office whitening can be more comprehensive and precise. Another reason to opt for your dentist to whiten your teeth is the wide range of discoloration they can alleviate. They have clinical techniques for alleviating internal tooth staining, and could even combine these with treatments for external staining. Your dentist can also help you achieve the exact degree of whiteness you desire—from a more subtle, natural shade to “Hollywood Bright.”
Whitening isn’t permanent—but with a thorough application and avoiding foods and habits that contribute to staining, professional whitening effects can last up to two years. If you’re interested, see your dentist for a full dental examination for any issues that might interfere with the whitening process. From there, you’re not far from a brighter and more attractive smile.
If you would like more information on teeth whitening and other dental cosmetic enhancements, 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: Brighter, Lighter, Whiter….”
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