Victims of disfiguring oral and facial injuries and medical conditions are finding some relief in Moos Tower, thanks to work being done in the University’s Maxillofacial Prosthodontics Clinic.
Dr. Beth Brosky, a professor at the University’s School of Dentistry, said her work, maxillofacial prosthodontics, helps restore the quality of life for numerous victims of disfiguring conditions by reproducing damaged and missing parts of the interior and exterior of the mouth and face. Parts of the face commonly replaced by a maxillofacial prosthodontist can include eyes, ears, noses, teeth and parts of the jaw.
Brosky said she sees approximately 50 to 70 patients every year. The most common causes of disfigurement are cleft palate, head and neck cancer, birth defects, and traumas such as self-inflicted injuries and automobile accidents, she said.
Her patients typically come from all around Minnesota and the upper Midwest, but she said she has helped people from as far away as India.
Brosky said victims of oral and facial disfigurement often become recluses, deteriorating their quality of life.
“Sometimes family members won’t come to visit (patients) because they’re so grossly disfigured. Health-care workers have said they’re afraid to go into patients’ rooms,” Brosky said. “The prosthesis allows patients more interaction – they get people out of the house to get them to socialize more.”
Dr. Patrick Lloyd, dean of the School of Dentistry, said maxillofacial prosthodontics are also used for creating devices that make swallowing, breathing and speaking easier for patients.
Lloyd said dentistry faculty members and students are especially suited for maxillofacial prosthodontics.
“(Dentistry professors) have a lot of experience, training and knowledge in materials that are created to mimic human tissue in the mouth – they’re familiar with plastics and silicones that simulate physical properties of human tissue,” Lloyd said. “They’re also educated and trained about color – what parts of the human body have what types of color.”
Lloyd said the clinic provides a valuable learning experience for dentistry students.
“(The clinic) provides a site for patient care that involves many health-care disciplines – dentists, physicians, speech therapists and audiologists,” Lloyd said.
Brosky said the clinic helps round out the variety of services offered by the University, but maxillofacial prosthodontics can be a very difficult practice.
Often, a prosthesis can be limited because of the degree of deformity in patient, she said
“You have to try to make things work the best you can, and sometimes you can only get so far and acknowledge that this is the best we can do under the circumstances,” Brosky said.
Heather Conrad, a third-year prosthodontics resident, worked with Brosky last year. She said working with Brosky exposed her to patients with medical and dental conditions that are important for dentistry residents to be familiar with.
Life with prosthesis
Brosky said a prosthesis inside the mouth is typically made of acrylic, while those outside the mouth are made of silicone and painted with an oil-based paint to match the patient’s skin or tissue tone.
A prosthesis for the interior of the mouth must be cleaned daily to avoid a bacteria buildup, and a prosthesis outside the mouth must be cleaned daily to get rid of oils from the skin and dirt in the air, she said. All are removable and either snap into implants in the facial bones or use an adhesive, Brosky said.
A prosthesis inside the mouth can last a lifetime, while those outside of the mouth can last anywhere from six months to a few years, Brosky said.
“It depends on how hard they wear it – it’s like a pair of shoes.”