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Operation Smile


Mellas Orthodontics is a proud supporter of Operation Smile, an international medical charity that has transformed hundreds of thousands of young lives impacted by cleft lip and palate. When you visit our practice, you will earn Mellas Bucks at each visit. These Mellas Bucks can be redeemed for prizes. Many of our patients will donate some or all of these Mellas Bucks back to the Operation Smile cause. Dr. Mellas converts these Mellas Bucks to real dollars. Each surgery costs $240 to perform, which basically covers the supplies and expenses necessary for the volunteer doctors and teams to perform these surgeries. To date, we have donated over 100 surgeries to children who would not have been able to afford this procedure on their own. Dr. Mellas and her team understand the value of a healthy smile and occlusion and we will continue to support this amazing charity!



What is Operation Smile?

Operation Smile is an international medical charity that has provided hundreds of thousands of free surgeries for children and young adults in developing countries who are born with cleft lip, cleft palate or other facial deformities. It is one of the oldest and largest volunteer-based organizations dedicated to improving the health and lives of children worldwide through access to surgical care. Since 1982, Operation Smile has developed expertise in mobilizing volunteer medical teams to conduct surgical missions in resource-poor environments while adhering to the highest standards of care and safety. Operation Smile helps to fill the gap in providing access to safe, well-timed surgeries by partnering with hospitals, governments and ministries of health, training local medical personnel, and donating much-needed supplies and equipment to surgical sites around the world. Founded and based in Virginia, Operation Smile has extended its global reach to more than 60 countries through its network of credentialed surgeons, pediatricians, doctors, nurses, and student volunteers.



What is a cleft lip or cleft palate and how often do cleft conditions happen?

A cleft is a gap in the mouth that didn’t close during the early stages of pregnancy, and this kind of birth defect happens more often than you may realize. It is estimated that, worldwide, a child is born every 3 minutes with a cleft — about one in 500-750 births. Sometimes a cleft condition can be easy to see because it’s an opening in the lip. Sometimes it’s harder to tell if someone has a cleft because it’s an opening in the roof of their mouth (called the palate.)


Why do cleft conditions happen and can this birth defect be prevented? 

There are many risk factors that can increase the likelihood of birth defects. While some causes are still unknown, genetics and family history, pre-existing medical conditions, poor nutrition and exposure to harmful environmental substances can affect the healthy development of a baby. As a result, these factors could also be the cause of a baby born with a cleft lip or cleft palate.
Researchers continue to figure out all the genes involved in the formation of a cleft condition and the interaction of these genes with the environment, hoping to avoid clefts from happening someday. For example, the protective effect of taking folic acid supplements during pregnancy in other conditions such as spina bifida has been documented, but attempts to prove the same protective effect for cleft conditions has remained inconsistent until recently.


Does a cleft condition cause problems for a child?

Depending on the type and severity, a cleft can create serious health issues if not corrected. Babies can have difficulty with feeding, which in some parts of the world can lead to malnutrition, or even starvation. Ear infections can occur — and recurring ear infections can lead to hearing loss. Dental development can be affected. Speech and language development can also be impaired. Children may also suffer from bullying and social isolation.


Can cleft lip and cleft palate be repaired?

With surgery, a child suffering from a cleft lip or cleft palate can have a brand-new, beautiful smile. In an ideal situation, a pediatrician and a plastic surgeon work with a child’s parents soon after the child’s birth to choose the best timing for surgery. Most surgeons agree that a cleft lip should be repaired by the time a baby is 3 months old, and that a cleft palate should be repaired between the ages of 12 and 18 months.
For many families in developing countries, early surgery may not be an option, due to lack of financial resources, qualified medical staff and other factors. Since 1982, Operation Smile has been dedicated to finding these families around the world and providing them with surgery so they can live happy healthy lives.