A common congenital deformity affecting the face is a cleft lip, cleft palate, or both. Facial irregularities occur during pregnancy when the mouth or lip area does not join properly, causing a gap. The cleft lip and/or cleft palate can be genetically inherited or an isolated birth defect, but surgery can restore normal function and facial aesthetic.
The severity of this condition varies from person to person, but it can be as severe as a large gap extending through the lip and gum into the nose or as minor as a small notch in the upper lip. There are several risk factors, which may increase a baby’s likelihood of being born with this condition. Those risk factors include
- Family history of the condition or genetic inheritance
- Exposure to substances such as alcohol or smoking during pregnancy
- Sex – Males are more likely to be born with a cleft lip
- Sex – Females are more likely to be born with a cleft palate than males
- Race – This condition is most common in children with Asian and American Indian heritage
- Obesity during pregnancy
Many people discover their baby has a cleft lip or cleft palate during the prenatal ultrasounds. Aside from the aesthetic issues, unfortunately, children face other day-to-day problems when they have a cleft lip or cleft palate, such as
Ear Infections and Hearing Loss. Children who have a cleft palate are more prone to fluid build-up in the middle ear, making them a higher risk for ear infections, which can cause hearing loss if left untreated.
Dental Problems. The presence of this condition often results in missing, extra, or displaced teeth, and extensive orthodontic treatment may be necessary.
Difficulty Eating. A cleft palate can make it difficult for children to chew their food properly. A prosthetic palate may be needed to make eating easier until the corrective surgery is performed.
Trouble Speaking. Children with either of these conditions often experience difficulty carrying their voices and pronouncing words, making speaking strained.
How is a cleft lip or palate treated?
Children with a cleft lip or palate can regain many functions through surgery, therapy, or both. Cleft lips and cleft palates are considered to be completely treatable. Children frequently undergo a series of surgeries as they age and develop to help their mouths develop properly.
When repairing a cleft palate, the first surgery usually occurs during infancy (between 6 months and 12 months). The surgeon will enter the mouth, close the gap, reconnect the palate muscles, and sometimes elongate the palate. Usually, a second surgical procedure is necessary when the child reaches 8–12 years of age, which involves placing a bone graft into the palate.
When repairing a cleft lip, the surgeon aims to close the gap in the upper lip. The initial procedure is usually performed when the patient is 1–4 months old. Additional surgeries may be needed to monitor the lip’s growth and development, which typically starts at age 2 and continues into the later teen years. Further treatment, such as hearing aids or speech therapy, may be recommended as well.
At Coastal Oral Surgery & Dental Implant Center, we utilize our extensive knowledge of oral and maxillofacial surgery and training to repair cleft lips and palate deformities. If you are in need of a consultation to correct this facial defect, please contact us.