Cleft lip and cleft palate are birth defects that occur when a baby’s lip or mouth do not form properly during the pregnancy time. Children with a cleft lip also have a cleft palate.
A cleft lip happens if the tissue that makes up the lip does not join completely before the birth. This results in an opening in the upper lip. The opening in the lip can be a small slit, or it can be a large opening that goes through the lip into the nose.
A cleft palate happens if the tissue that makes up the roof of the mouth does not join together completely during pregnancy with different grade of opening.
Children with these ‘orofacial defects’ often have problems with feeding and speaking clearly or can have ear infections. They also might have hearing problems and problems with their teeth along with the un-aesthetic component related to the orofacial defect. Surgical repair of cleft palate and cleft lip can improve the look and the appearance of a child’s face and might also improve breathing, hearing, speaking and language development.
Surgery to repair a cleft lip usually occurs in the first few months of life and it is recommended in the first year of life. A cleft palate repair is recommended within the first 18 months of life. Additional surgical cosmetic procedures may be requested as children get older.
The initial surgery creates a functional palate, reduces the chances that fluid will develop in the middle ears and aids in the proper development of the teeth and facial bones. Children with a cleft palate may also need a bone graft when they are about 8 years old, to fill in the upper gum line so that it can support permanent teeth and stabilize the upper jaw. Once the permanent teeth grow in, braces are often needed to straighten the teeth. Additional cosmetic surgeries may be performed to improve the appearance of the lip and nose, close openings between the mouth and nose, help to breathe and stabilize and realign the jaw.
Although cleft lip and cleft palate treatment may extend over several years and require several surgeries depending upon the involvement, most children affected by this condition can achieve normal appearance, speech and eating.
Due to the number of oral health and medical problems associated with a cleft lip or cleft palate, a team of doctors and other specialists is usually involved in the care of these children. Members of a cleft lip and palate team typically include not only plastic surgeons but also otolaryngologist, audiologist and speech therapist. Dr. Vinay Jacob and The Plastic Surgeons provide a co-ordinated approach to care for children with orofacial defects.
While many cases of cleft lip and cleft palate cannot be prevented, consider these steps to increase your understanding or lower your risk: