One in 700 babies are born each year with a cleft lip, a cleft palate or both. Besides its devastating emotional and social impact, this common birth defect can also jeopardize a child's long-term health. Fortunately, incredible progress has occurred in the last half century repairing cleft defects. Today's children with these birth defects often enter adulthood with a normal appearance and better overall health.
A cleft is a gap in the mouth or face that typically forms during early pregnancy. It often affects the upper lip, the soft and hard palates, the nose or (rarely) the cheek and eye areas. Clefts can form in one or more structures, on one side of the face or on both. Why they form isn't fully understood, but they seem connected to a mother's vitamin deficiencies or to mother-fetus exposure to toxic substances or infections.
Before the 1950s there was little that could be done to repair clefts. That changed with a monumental discovery by Dr. Ralph Millard, a U.S. Navy surgeon stationed in Korea: Reviewing cleft photos, Dr. Millard realized the “missing” tissue wasn't missing—only misplaced. He developed the first technique to utilize this misplaced tissue to repair the cleft.
Today, skilled surgical teams have improved on Dr. Millard's efforts to not only repair the clefts but also restore balance and symmetry to the face. These teams are composed of various oral and dental specialties, including general dentists who care for the patient's teeth and prevent disease during the long repair process.
Cleft repairs are usually done in stages, beginning with initial lip repair around 3-6 months of age and, if necessary, palate repair around 6-12 months. Depending on the nature and degree of the cleft, subsequent surgeries might be needed throughout childhood to “polish” the original repairs, as well as cosmetic dental work like implants, crowns or bridgework.
In addition to the surgical team's skill and artistry, cleft repair also requires courage, strength and perseverance from patients and their parents, and support from extended family and friends. The end result, though, can be truly amazing and well worth the challenging road to get there.
If you would like more information on repairing cleft birth defects, 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.”
Your temporomandibular joints (TMJ), located where your lower jaw meets the skull, play an essential role in nearly every mouth function. It’s nearly impossible to eat or speak without them.
Likewise, jaw joint disorders (temporomandibular joint disorders or TMD) can make your life miserable. Not only can you experience extreme discomfort or pain, your ability to eat certain foods or speak clearly could be impaired.
But don’t assume you have TMD if you have these and other symptoms — there are other conditions with similar symptoms. You’ll need a definitive diagnosis of TMD from a qualified physician or dentist, particularly one who’s completed post-graduate programs in Oral Medicine or Orofacial Pain, before considering treatment.
If you are diagnosed with TMD, you may then face treatment choices that emanate from one of two models: one is an older dental model based on theories that the joint and muscle dysfunction is mainly caused by poor bites or other dental problems. This model encourages treatments like orthodontically moving teeth, crowning problem teeth or adjusting bites by grinding down tooth surfaces.
A newer treatment model, though, has supplanted this older one and is now practiced by the majority of dentists. This is a medical model that views TMJs like any other joint in the body, and thus subject to the same sort of orthopedic problems found elsewhere: sore muscles, inflamed joints, strained tendons and ligaments, and disk problems. Treatments tend to be less invasive or irreversible than those from the dental model.
The newer model encourages treatments like physical therapy, medication, occlusive guards or stress management. The American Association of Dental Research (AADR) in fact recommends that TMD patients begin their treatment from the medical model rather than the dental one, unless there are indications to the contrary. Many studies have concluded that a majority of patients gain significant relief with these types of therapies.
If a physician or dentist recommends more invasive treatment, particularly surgery, consider seeking a second opinion. Unlike the therapies mentioned above, surgical treatments have a spotty record when it comes to effectiveness — some patients even report their conditions worsening afterward. Try the less-invasive approach first — you may find improvement in your symptoms and quality of life.
If you would like more information on treating TMD, 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 “Seeking Relief from TMD.”
If while watching a Seattle Seahawks game you thought you saw wide receiver D. K. Metcalf sucking on a “binky,” your eyes weren’t deceiving you. Well, sort of not—he’s actually been known to wear a mouth and lip guard shaped like a child’s pacifier.
Metcalf isn’t the only pro football player customizing this essential piece of safety equipment. Broncos running back Ronnie Hillman has been seen sporting “vampire fangs.” And Odell Beckham Jr., wide receiver with the Cleveland Browns, has a series of interchangeable guards with various designs and colors.
You may say, “That’s the NFL, so of course players have the money and fame to dress up their mouthguards with a little flair.” But custom mouthguards aren’t out of reach for the average athlete—in fact, it’s actually a sound idea. Not so much for expressing personality, but for the comfort and protective advantages that a custom mouthguard may have over retail varieties.
Usually made of high-resistant plastic, an athletic mouthguard absorbs blows to the face and mouth during hard contacts in sports like football, basketball and hockey. Mandated by many organized sports associations, mouthguards can prevent dental and facial injuries like chipped or knocked out teeth, gum abrasions or jaw fractures. There’s even some evidence they reduce the risk of concussion.
Many amateur players use what is known as a “boil and bite” mouthguard, available in retail sporting goods stores. They’re softened first, usually in hot water, and then placed in the mouth and clenched between the jaws to obtain a somewhat individualized fit.
Although they do provide some level of protection, a boil and bite mouthguard can’t match the accuracy of a custom mouthguard produced by a dentist based on impressions and measurements of an individual player’s mouth. As a result, custom mouthguards can be made thinner than many boil and bite guards, increasing their comfort while being worn. More importantly, their accurate fit enhances their protective capabilities.
As you might imagine, custom mouthguards are more expensive than their retail counterparts, and with younger athletes whose mouth structures are still growing, it may be necessary to upgrade a custom guard after a few seasons. Still, the cost of a custom mouthguard may be well worth the superior protection it provides for your own little star athlete. And although it may not necessarily look like a binky or vampire fangs, a custom mouthguard could make their playing experience safer and more comfortable.
Recurring episodes of severe pain along your face could mean you have trigeminal neuralgia (TN). Although not always curable, TN can be managed effectively with the right strategy.
TN affects a specific pair of nerves called the trigeminal that signal pain in the face or jaws. They originate from the brain stem through the skull on either side of the face, with each nerve having upper, middle and lower branches. TN can affect one or more of these branches and cause anywhere from a mild twinge to excruciating pain.
Causes for TN differ in individual patients. Though it could be linked to a tumor, lesion or cold sore, it most often seems to arise from a blood vessel impinging on the nerve and damaging its outer coating. This causes it to be hypersensitive: chewing, speaking or even lightly touching the face can set it off. The damaged nerve may also fail to "shut off" when the triggering stimulation stops.
If you have these types of symptoms, your first step is to obtain an accurate diagnosis. You'll need a thorough examination to rule out other possibilities like jaw joint problems or a tooth abscess. Once we've determined it's definitely TN, we can then devise a treatment strategy.
We usually begin with conservative measures like medication to block pain transmission to the brain or anticonvulsants that stabilize the nerve and decrease abnormal firing. If medication isn't enough, we may then consider an invasive procedure to control symptoms.
Percutaneous treatment — often recommended for older patients or those in poor health — involves inserting a thin needle into the nerve to selectively damage certain fibers that will prevent the nerve from signaling pain. We might be able to move an impinging blood vessel aside from the nerve with a microsurgical procedure. As an alternative to surgery, high-dose radiation could also be aimed precisely at the pain site with a controlled beam to alter the nerve's ability to transmit pain.
TN can be a source of great discomfort that lowers your quality of life. But employing treatment techniques that best suit your situation, we can greatly reduce the misery it inflicts.
If you would like more information on facial pain caused by trigeminal neuralgia, 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 “Trigeminal Neuralgia: A Nerve Disorder that Causes Facial Pain.”
While sports like football, basketball and soccer have exploded in popularity over the last few decades, many Americans still have a soft spot for the granddaddy of them all: baseball. While technology has changed many aspects of the game, many of its endearing traditions live on.
Unfortunately, one baseball tradition isn’t so endearing and definitely hazardous to health—tobacco, primarily the smokeless variety. Players and coaches alike, even down to the high school level, have promoted or at least tolerated its use.
But there are signs this particular baseball tradition is losing steam. Not long ago, the San Francisco Giants became the first major league baseball team to prohibit tobacco in its home stadium—on the field as well as in the stands. The move was largely in response to a law passed by the City of San Francisco, but it does illustrate a growing trend to discourage tobacco use in baseball.
While smoking, chewing or dipping tobacco can certainly impact a person’s overall health, it can be especially damaging to the teeth, gums and mouth. Our top oral health concern with tobacco is cancer: Research has shown some correlation between tobacco use (especially smokeless) and a higher risk of oral cancer.
You need look no further than the highest ranks of baseball itself to notice a link between tobacco and oral cancer. Although from different eras, Babe Ruth and Tony Gwynn, both avid tobacco users, died from oral cancer. Other players like pitcher Curt Schilling have been diagnosed and treated for oral cancer.
Cancer isn’t the only threat tobacco poses to oral health. The nicotine in tobacco can constrict blood vessels in the mouth; this in turn reduces the normal flow of nutrients and disease-fighting immune cells to the teeth and gums. As a result, tobacco users are much more susceptible to contracting tooth decay and gum disease than non-users, and heal more slowly after treatment.
That’s why it’s important, especially in youth baseball, to discourage tobacco use on the field. While most of baseball’s traditions are worthy of preservation, the chapter on tobacco needs to close.
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