Reading, Pa. prosthodontist uses science, art, engineering to help patients rediscover themselves #IE40under40
With art there is possibility. Combine it with a caring spirit, and limitations disappear. The artistic masterpieces created by Dr. Andrea Smith, a maxillofacial prosthodontics at Berks Prosthodontics in Reading, Pennsylvania, transform her patients and enhance their lives. As a maxillofacial prosthodontist, Dr. Smith helps create and replace underdeveloped and missing aspects of a person’s face or mouth, such as ears, noses, jaw structures, teeth and cleft palates. She replaces these essential body parts with intricately made protheses.
“I’ve always loved art – sculpture especially – along with math and science. At 14, I started as a dental assistant at my dentist’s office after, during my checkup, he randomly invited me to work for him. So, I was in the dental field already.” Dr. Andrea Smith, recalling her first job.
The Incisal Edge 40 Under 40 honoree explained that her father wanted her to follow his footsteps and take engineering classes at Penn State University, but she couldn’t decide whether to pursue art or her father’s wishes. She enrolled in engineering but wasn’t ready to forgo her other areas of interest.
“Sometime during my freshman year, I discovered that there was a dental specialty called prosthodontics that was very much a mixture of art and science – and even a hint of engineering – and I knew I’d found my calling.” Dr. Andrea Smith, describing her early college career.
The 39-year-old graduated as valedictorian from Penn State Eberly College of Science with a degree in pre-medicine and then attended the Columbia University College of Dental Medicine in New York City, where she again achieved the honor of valedictorian. Later, she attended the UCLA Advanced Prosthodontics Residency Program for three years, and completed an additional one-year residency training in maxillofacial prosthetics. She is one of 350 maxillofacial prosthodontists worldwide and selected this specialty because of the significant difference she is able to make in her patients’ lives. One of her patients, a woman who lost her nose to cancer, received the restorative brilliance Dr. Smith creates for her patients.
“She had been covering her face with a satin mask that her hairdresser had very caringly sewn for her. After many failed attempts at surgical reconstruction, her surgeons referred her to me, and I was able to give her a new implant-retained prosthetic nose that attached to an implant-retained bar placed in the floor of the nasal defect.” Dr. Andrea Smith.
Another patient, a U.S. Veteran who suffers from brain damage caused by a mine explosion in the Vietnam War, experiences short-term memory loss and often loses his dentures, Dr. Smith explained. Her solution: “I’m currently making him a fixed prosthesis that should put an end to that cycle – even if he may not remember who made it for him.” Many of her patients originate outside the realm of dentistry. Lexi, a dental assistant who had worked alongside Dr. Smith at the Lancaster Cleft Palate Clinic for many years, brought one of these patients to light. Lexi’s younger sister, Keturah, suffered from a craniofacial anomaly. During a school externship program, Keturah explained that her adult teeth never fully developed, which left her with a small upper jaw and a diverged nasal septum.
“I teamed up with an orthodontist, a plastic surgeon and an oral surgeon to accomplish a complex treatment plan that involved jaw surgery to advance her maxilla (bone that forms the upper jaw), the placement of both zygomatic (cheek or malar bone) and regular dental implants, rhinoplasty, orthodontic treatment, and a fixed complete dental prosthesis.” Dr. Andrea Smith describes a complex procedure.
Dr. Smith and others like her provide optimum care and use advanced technology to make facial and dental replacements possible. But insufficient insurance coverage can create obstacles between the patients and quality care.
“The most frustrating challenge has been getting sufficient insurance coverage for patients who require major oral reconstruction as a result of congenital anomalies (cleft/syndromes) and cancer. Kids can be born without adult teeth, and with an open palate, and medical insurance can offer them nothing but what is essentially a denture. Patients who have had half of their skull removed due to cancer cannot have the benefit of implant therapy unless they can pay for it out of pocket.” Dr. Andrea Smith
Creating awareness about alternative solutions
Dr. Smith’s primary goal at Berks Prosthodontics: To raise public awareness about the options available. She says many people live without treatment or with sub-par remedies for their health problems, while prosthodontists offers alternative solutions. The U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics states that demand for these professionals is expected to rise to 17.2 percent by 2026. Dr. Smith is honored to be a prosthodontists and to assist as many patients as possible.
“I love making dramatic changes in people’s lives. And I love being the last line of hope and coming through for them after they’ve been told by others that nothing could be done to help them.” Dr. Andrea Smith, on finding fulfillment as a dental specialist.