By Mark T. Marunick, D.D.S., M.S., maxillofacial prosthodontist and professor in the Department of Otolaryngology, at the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Center and Wayne State University School of Medicine
As a maxillofacial prosthodontist and professor in the Department of Otolaryngology at the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Center and Wayne State University, I find my work incredibly satisfying. It is very professionally rewarding when I am able to help restore a head and neck or oral cancer patient’s physical features, a portion of which may have been lost to treatment.
More than just the cosmetic aspect of improving a patient’s life, it’s even more gratifying to me when I and my surgical colleagues at Karmanos can help patients to function normally – to eat, drink, talk, breathe and swallow – every day actions that most of us take for granted.
When a patient comes to Karmanos for head and neck or oral cancer treatments, sometimes their treatment path can lead to the loss of speech, the ability to chew and swallow, or their ability to breathe normally. Unfortunately, to survive cancer, they may lose a facial feature such as an eye, eye socket (orbit), ear, jaw or tongue.
My job typically requires me to work closely with surgeons who treat these cancer patients. I’m usually brought onto a case when surgeons find that they have reached the limits of their ability to reconstruct the affected area.
Many times, I am asked to make prosthetics for intraoral use, including hard and soft palate structures, which I fabricate out of acrylic. These prostheses are called obturators and they restore the integrity of the hard and soft palate. They must conform very precisely to the patient’s anatomy and function in a dynamic way that allows the patient to eat, drink and speak normally.
I also make prostheses replacing teeth, and gums on jaws — which are often reconstructed from bone taken from the leg — and other structures.
Although it’s a smaller portion of the work that I do, I also create lifelike facial prostheses, typically made of silicone. These include noses, eye sockets and ears. I usually spend hours sculpting a prosthesis in wax, convert it to flexible silicone and then paint it to match the patient’s own skin.
I have always been interested in dentistry, even from the age of 4 or 5. I received my doctorate in dentistry and a master of science degree in prosthodontics from theUniversityofMichigan. While there, I was exposed to maxillofacial prosthetics in a lecture.
It was at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) School of Dentistry that I received my certification in maxillofacial prosthetics. Presently, UCLA is considered one of the top schools for the specialty and one of only about six or seven such programs in the country.
As a maxillofacial prosthodontist, I find it very rewarding to help a person battling cancer restore their appearance, their dignity and their humanity. Such a service helps people put their lives back together.
Editor’s note: Dr. Marunick is one of only two maxillofacial prosthodontists in Michigan connected with a university. He is also the only maxillofacial prosthodontist in the state offering only these services on a full time basis. For more information about Dr. Marunick’s services, contact 1-800-KARMANOS (1-800-527-6266) or visit http://www.karmanos.org.