Congenital ear anomalies occur in 33% of the population, and less than one third of these anomalies self-correct without treatment. Ear deformations and and malformations remain a missed opportunity for treatment and early infant molding can decrease operative interventions later in life. If a deformed ear does self- correct, it usually occurs within the first week of life. Missed ear molding opportunities often results in treatment after age 8 when the majority of growth is completed.
Infants beyond a week of age with persistent ear shape abnormalities may be referred for molding therapy within the first three weeks of life. If left uncorrected, ear anomalies may lead to teasing and social difficulties in school.
Traditionally, ear molding has been difficult to employ well unless one was facile in dental materials and could see the patient within the first few weeks of life. Patients who were not treated early had to wait until they were surgical candidates (7-8 years of age), and this delay frequently resulted in patient and/or parental anxiety. Additionally, surgery can be challenging, and the best surgical results may fall short of patient expectations.
Advances in ear molding now make it possible to treat patients nonsurgically and painlessly. Improvements in the design of prefabricated systems allow plastic surgeons to improve or correct many infant ear anomalies, including protruding ears, helical rim anomalies, Stahl's ear, lop ear and even cryptotia. This early nonsurgical intervention frequently eliminates the need for surgical correction, which may not be covered by insurance.
Several commercial ear molding systems are available facilitating application of ear molding and increasing the number of providers facile in this technique.
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Stephen Bradley Baker, MD,DDS
Pediatric Plastic Surgery, Craniofacial Plastic Surgery & Plastic Surgery