CHICAGO – Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) is an umbrella term that describes the range of effects that can occur in a person whose mother drank alcohol while pregnant. Each year, FASD affect an estimated 40,000 infants in the United States—more than spina bifida, Down syndrome, and muscular dystrophy combined. Dentists have found themselves to be in a unique position to aid children with FASD because, oftentimes, they may see patients on a more frequent basis than a physician.
Defects caused by prenatal exposure to alcohol have been identified in virtually every part of the body. These areas include the brain, kidney, heart, ears, bones—and face. Dentists are now learning how to spot orofacial characteristics that often affect children with FASD, according to an article published in the September 2010 issue of AGD Impact, the monthly newsmagazine of the Academy of General Dentistry (AGD).
A thin upper lip, a smooth philtrum (the depression between the nose and upper lip), and a flat nasal bridge are all potential signs of FASD. In some cases, recognition of these specific orofacial characteristics can help lead to an accurate diagnosis, because other manifestations of FASD, particularly cognitive and behavioral ones, overlap with those of many other conditions, such as attention deficit disorder/attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD) and autism.
“Dentists are a critical part of each family’s health care team and by learning the orofacial cues of FASD, not only can we provide the best care to children with the condition but also help the child’s primary care physician to diagnose patients early on,” says Peter G. Bastian, DDS, MAGD, spokesperson for the AGD. “An early diagnosis of FASD can improve the way in which the child’s physician tailors the patient’s treatments and visits to the office, as well as to improve the patient’s overall care. Because of their disabilities, patients with FASD often have special needs that require supportive services.”
A proper diagnosis also aids the dentist in his or her patient treatment plan. “Oral challenges that dentists may face with children who have FASD include widespread cavities; mouth breathing caused by facial deformities, which leads to dry mouth; and jaw joint disorders,” Dr. Bastian says.
The majority of children with FASD are diagnosed well after birth. While there is no cure for FASD, -people with FASD can still succeed with support programs and services, including special education, vocational programs, tutors, and structured environments, as needed.
FASD is 100 percent preventable when pregnant women abstain from alcohol. There is no known safe amount of alcohol to drink while pregnant. If you have questions about FASD, talk to your primary care physician and your dentist.
The Academy of General Dentistry (AGD) is a professional association of more than 35,000 general dentists dedicated to staying up to date in the profession through continuing education. Founded in 1952, the AGD has grown to become the second-largest dental association in the United States, and it is the only association that exclusively represents the needs and interests of general dentists. More than 772,000 persons in the United States are employed directly in the field of dentistry. A general dentist is the primary care provider for patients of all ages and is responsible for the diagnosis, treatment, management and overall coordination of services related to patients’ oral health needs. Learn more about AGD member dentists or find more information on dental health topics at www.KnowYourTeeth.com.
Contact: The AGD public relations department at 312.440.4346 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Note: Information that appears in General Dentistry, the AGD’s peer-reviewed journal, AGD Impact, the AGD’s newsmagazine, and related press releases do not necessarily reflect the endorsement of the AGD.