Once consigned to an extraordinary divine intervention, the term "miracle" is often used today for anything out of the ordinary. But even if the usage has become a little worn, there are things that, though not of supernatural origin, may still deserve the description. In that regard, today's surgical techniques to correct lip or palate clefts and the impact they can have on lives is well-nigh miraculous.
Before the 1950s, though, there was little that could be done to correct these kinds of birth defects. That all changed, though, with a "bolt from the blue" discovery by a military doctor over a half century ago. During Cleft & Craniofacial Awareness & Prevention Month this July, we recognize that doctor's breakthrough insight and the vast progress since then in cleft reconstruction surgery.
Affecting more than 4,000 babies each year, clefts develop during early pregnancy as portions of the face, typically the lips or extending into the palate, don't completely unite with each other. As a result, gaps (clefts) occur where the tissues should be uniform, forming on one side of the face or both.
Clefts can have a harmful effect on a baby's ability to feed or even breathe, and they can interfere with speech development as the child gets older. But what may cause the most emotional pain is the alteration of a person's normal appearance, which may inhibit their ability to socially interact with others.
But a child today with a lip or palate cleft can reclaim a more normal appearance through a series of surgical repairs. The genesis for this began when a U.S. Naval surgeon named Ralph Millard stationed in Korea in 1950 noticed something when studying photographs of his cleft patients. He realized there was no missing tissue with a cleft—all the "parts" were still there and only needed to be "rearranged" surgically.
Today's surgeons do just that, having built modern cleft correction on Dr. Millard's original procedures. And although it involves multiple procedures and often a team of surgeons, dentists and orthodontists, the end result is life-changing.
As amazing as these results may be, cleft correction is a process that can take years, taxing the stamina of both patients and their families. But with ample support, a child with a cleft now has a chance to enter adulthood with a normal smile and appearance. If anything deserves the title "miracle," surely cleft reconstruction surgery does.
If you would like more information about cleft treatment and reconstruction, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “Cleft Lip & Cleft Palate.”
Between the final game of the World Series in late October and spring training in February, major league baseball players work on their skills preparing for the new season. Reporters on a Zoom call to the New York Yankees' training camp wanted to know what star outfielder Aaron Judge had been doing along those lines. But when he smiled, their interest turned elsewhere: What had Aaron Judge done to his teeth?
Already with 120 homers after only five seasons, Judge is a top player with the Yankees. His smile, however, has been less than spectacular. Besides a noticeable gap between his top front teeth (which were also more prominent than the rest of his teeth), Judge also had a chipped tooth injury on a batting helmet in 2017 during a home plate celebration for a fellow player's walk-off home run.
But now Judge's teeth look even, with no chip and no gap. So, what did the Yankee slugger have done?
He hasn't quite said, but it looks as though he received a “smile makeover” with porcelain veneers, one of the best ways to turn dental “ugly ducklings” into “beautiful swans.” And what's even better is that veneers aren't limited to superstar athletes or performers—if you have teeth with a few moderate dental flaws, veneers could also change your smile.
As the name implies, veneers are thin shells of porcelain bonded to the front of teeth to mask chips, cracks, discolorations or slight gaps between teeth. They may even help even out disproportionately sized teeth. Veneers are custom-made by dental technicians based on a patient's particular tooth dimensions and color.
Like other cosmetic techniques, veneers are a blend of technology and artistry. They're made of a durable form of dental porcelain that can withstand biting forces (within reason, though—you'd want to avoid biting down on ice or a hard piece of food with veneered teeth). They're also carefully colored so that they blend seamlessly with your other teeth. With the right artistic touch, we can make them look as natural as possible.
Although porcelain veneers can accommodate a wide range of dental defects, they may not be suitable for more severe flaws. After examining your teeth, we'll let you know if you're a good candidate for veneers or if you should consider another restoration. Chances are, though, veneers could be your way to achieve what Aaron Judge did—a home run smile.
If you would like more information about porcelain veneers, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “Porcelain Veneers: Strength & Beauty As Never Before.”
Although cancer treatment has advanced steadily in recent decades, the most used therapies continue to be radiation and chemotherapy to eradicate cancerous cells. And while they often work, both can cause "collateral damage" in healthy tissues near the targeted cells.
This can create a number of indirect consequences for a patient's health, including in the mouth. The salivary glands, for example, can be damaged by radiation treatments aimed at the head or neck. The effect on these glands can interrupt the normal flow of saliva and cause xerostomia or "dry mouth."
Lack of adequate saliva causes more than an unpleasant, sticky mouth feeling. One of saliva's main functions is to neutralize acid that builds up naturally after eating. Without it, high acid levels can cause enamel and root surface erosion and lead to tooth decay.
Cancer treatment can also contribute to gastro-esophageal reflux disease (GERD). This disease causes stomach acid to bypass the natural tissue barriers of the esophagus and enter the mouth. As with dry mouth, the increased acid level from GERD can be just as devastating to enamel—and the damage will be permanent.
To minimize these effects on your dental health, it's important to take proactive steps before, during and after cancer treatment. If at all possible, have any needed dental work performed before you begin radiation or chemotherapy—it's better to start it with teeth and gums as healthy as possible.
During treatment, try to continue regular dental visits to monitor your oral health and receive any needed preventive or therapeutic treatments. Depending on your condition and the advice of your dentist, you may need to increase your visit frequency during this time. Your dentist can help with boosting your saliva production and strengthening your tooth enamel. But you should also practice daily brushing and flossing, drink plenty of water and seek treatment for any resulting GERD symptoms.
Even with the best efforts, though, your teeth and gums may still incur damage while treating your cancer. Fortunately, there are a wide array of materials and procedures that can effectively restore them to health. So, once your treatments are completed consult with a dentist on your options for improving the health and appearance of your teeth and gums.
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.
After ruling out other possibilities for your constant jaw joint pain, your doctor has diagnosed you with a temporomandibular disorder (TMD). Now that you know what you have, what can you do about it?
Unfortunately, it's not always an easy answer. Ideas about treatment are almost as numerous as theories on the causes of TMD. By and large, though, we can classify treatment into two broad categories: conservative and aggressive.
The conservative approach is the result of many years of experimentation and application; it's also much less invasive than aggressive treatments. For most patients, though, these treatments can offer significant relief from pain and dysfunction.
Conservative treatments are based primarily on the philosophy that the temporomandibular joint is like any other joint, and should be treated that way. Treatments include thermal therapies like ice or heat packs applied to the jaw, physical therapy (gentle stretching, jaw exercise, and massage) and pain and muscle relaxant medication. In cases where teeth grinding may be a contributing factor, we might recommend a bite guard worn in the mouth to reduce biting pressure.
On the other end of the spectrum are treatments like altering the bite or the position of the jaw. The purpose of bite alteration is to change the dynamic when the jaws are in contact during chewing or clenching, and reduce pressure on the joints. This is often done by reshaping the teeth's biting surfaces, moving the teeth with orthodontics or performing crown and bridgework. Another possibility, actually modifying the lower jaw location, requires surgery. All of these aggressive treatments are done in order of less to more invasiveness.
These more aggressive treatments, especially jaw surgery, are irreversible. Furthermore, studies on results have not been encouraging — there's no guarantee you'll receive relief from your symptoms. You should consider the aggressive approach only as a last resort, after you've tried more conservative measures. Even then, you should get a second opinion before undergoing more invasive procedures.
Hopefully, you'll see relief from therapies that have made a significant difference for most TMD sufferers. And that's our goal: to reduce your pain and dysfunction and help you regain your quality of life.
If you would like more information on TMD causes and 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 “Seeking Relief from TMD.”
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