How Dental Implants Can Help People With Palate Defects

When people think of dental implants, they may think of implants that replace missing teeth. While missing teeth is one possible reason to undergo an implant procedure, there are others, such as implants for bridges and implants for fixed prosthetics (e.g., all-on-four dentures). If you have a palate defect, such as a fistula or missing tissue from oral cancer, then dental implants could be used to correct the problem. Read on to learn more about palatal defects and how dental implants can correct these issues.

How are Palatal Defects Usually Repaired?

According to the CDC, about 1 in every 1,700 babies is born with a cleft palate, where the roof of the mouth doesn't join completely during pregnancy. Usually, these defects are corrected by an oral surgeon while the child is still growing. The oral surgeon will bring the tissues of the palate together and may use artificial or bone grafts to restore the palate. Orthodontic care and speech therapy can also be used to correct the side effects of the cleft palate.

If someone has oral cancer that has infected the palate, then a portion of tissue may need to be removed. Like a cleft palate surgery, an oral surgeon may use a graft to replace infected tissue and bony structures that have been lost.

However, not everyone is a good candidate for oral surgery. Even if a patient with a cleft palate or oral cancer has surgery, there may postoperative complications like fistulas. A fistula is an abnormal hollow space, usually between the soft palate and nasal cavity.

If surgery isn't an option, or if it fails, then patients may suffer from frequent ear infections, dental problems, eating/speaking problems, and disrupted breathing. These types of patients may want to look into palatal obturators fixed on dental implants.

What Is a Palatal Obturator?

An obturator is a type of prosthesis that looks similar to a retainer or upper denture. Your dentist will take an impression and create a prosthetic that will fit on the roof of the mouth. As the name implies, obturators obstruct or block fistulas so that patients can have an easier time, speaking, breathing, and eating. Some obturators are easily removable, like a retainer, while others can lock into implants.

What Types of Patients Could Benefit From Obturators and Dental Implants?

If a person is missing many or all their teeth (known as "edentulous" patients), it can be hard for an obturator to have proper support. Dental implants can help these patients since the obturator will have a clear anchor point on the implant. One study found that obturators on mini implants helped patients have better comfort and function.

Implant-supported obturators can be a good option for patients who didn't have successful outcomes with surgery. Wikipedia says that there is an evolving field of prosthetics where implant-retained obturators are used not only to replace fistulas but also as facial structures for people with serious injuries or defects from oral cancer.

How Can Implant Contraindications Be Fixed?

If oral cancer has affected your bone density, then a dentist may need to place a bone graft first before the implants can be placed. With careful planning, your dentist can change the angulation of the implants to adapt to difficult cases where obturator retention might be an issue.

Also, if you aren't a good candidate for a traditional implant in the jawline, your dentist could recommend a zygomatic implant, or an implant that's anchored to the cheekbone. One study found that the zygomatic implants were reliable in the stabilization of obturators.

If you have palate issues that cannot be fixed by surgery, reach out to a dentist to learn more about dental implants and implant-supported obturator.