Posts for: May, 2015
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.
This is the story of a well-known man, fearless in most respects, who was afraid of the dentist. Even though his fears had resulted in neglect and serious damage to his teeth, modern dentistry and a talented dental team were able to restore his smile to health. If you share this fear, his story may inspire you to take action.
We're talking about William Perry, former defensive lineman and fullback for the Chicago Bears. Here is a man who could fearlessly face a football squad — but not a visit to the dentist. Nicknamed “The Refrigerator” for his 380-pound massive frame, Perry played for ten years in the NFL before retiring in 1994. Since retiring he founded and operated a construction company in South Carolina in addition to making celebrity appearances.
With his celebrity in mind, a team composed of a talented restorative dentist, implant surgeon, and lab technician agreed to give “The Fridge” a makeover. After discussing modern technology and virtually pain-free dentistry with him, they managed to overcome Perry's fears. “I had been in constant pain for many years and I neglected myself, not having had any dental care for over 20 years, not even emergency care. Unfortunately, as I grew older my teeth started to get loose,” Perry told an interviewer. He had lost many teeth and became known for his gap-toothed smile.
Perry had severe gum disease and many of his remaining teeth were loose. In the past his only option would have been a full set of dentures. But his new dental team was able to place dental implants (permanent tooth replacements) supporting fixed bridges. In most cases dental bridges are attached to healthy teeth, but in Perry's case the implants served as anchors for the bridges. They also stabilized his jawbone, which would otherwise “resorb” or melt away after his teeth were lost. This is important because it helps preserve the contours of his face.
After careful planning “The Fridge” had eight dental implants placed in his upper jaw and seven in his lower. The final bridgework was completed four months later. It turned out that even though the gap between his teeth had become his trademark, “the Fridge” never really liked it. He was thrilled with his new smile.
Even if you have some fears, don't hesitate to follow Perry's example and make an appointment with us for a consultation about dental implants, smile makeovers, or bridgework. For more information about William “The Refrigerator” Perry, see the Dear Doctor magazine article “How Immediate Implants Saved 'Refrigerator' Perry's Smile.”