Posts for: December, 2017
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.
What makes an attractive smile? Of course, shiny, straight and defect-free teeth are a big factor. But there’s another equally important element: all your teeth have come in.
Sometimes, though, they don’t: one or more teeth may remain up in the gums, a condition known as impaction. And if they’re in the front like the upper canines (the pointed teeth on either side of the front four incisors) your smile’s natural balance and symmetry can suffer.
Impaction usually happens due to lack of space on a small jaw. Previously erupted teeth crowd into the space of teeth yet to come in, preventing them from doing so. As a result the latter remain hidden within the gums.
While impaction can interfere with the smile appearance, it can cause health problems too. Impacted teeth are at higher risk for abscesses (localized areas of infection) and can damage the roots of other teeth they may be pressing against. That’s why it’s desirable for both form and function to treat them.
We begin first with an orthodontic examination to fully assess the situation. At some point we’ll want to pinpoint the impacted teeth’s precise location and position. While x-rays are useful for locating impacted teeth, many specialists use cone beam CT (CBCT) technology that produces highly detailed three-dimensional images viewable from different vantage points.
If the tooth is in too extreme a position, it might be best to remove it and later replace it with a dental impact or similar restoration once we’ve completed other necessary orthodontic treatment. But if the tooth is in a reasonable position, we might be able to “move” the tooth into its proper place in the jaw in coordination with these other tooth-movement efforts to make room for it.
To begin this process, an oral surgeon or periodontist surgically exposes the tooth crown (the normally visible portion) through the gums. They then bond a small bracket to the crown and attach a small gold chain. An orthodontist will attach the other end to orthodontic hardware that will exert downward pressure on the tooth to gradually bring it into normal position.
Dealing with impacted teeth of this nature is often part of a comprehensive effort to correct the bite. If we’re successful, it could permanently transform both the smile and overall dental health.
If you would like more information on treating impacted 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 “Exposing Impacted Canines.”