Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders

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. Dentists have found themselves to be in a unique position to aid children with FASD because they 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 can spot orofacial characteristics that often affect children with FASD. These are 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 physician to diagnose patients early on. 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.

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 programmes and services, including special education, vocational programmes, tutors and structured environments, as needed.