Cleft lip and cleft palate are among the most common birth defects, affecting about two out of every 1,000 babies born. Cleft palate surgery normalizes function and appearance and can help a child avoid potentially serious health issues. A cleft lip or cleft palate may occur individually in children or may occur together. They can involve either side of the face and sometimes both sides, and they range in severity. Repairing a cleft lip or palate early in a child’s development can help the child grow up with a normal appearance, allow for normal speech development, and keep the teeth and jaw in alignment.
In this post, we’ll introduce you to some of the basic aspects of the cleft lip or cleft palate defects and some of the ways they can be treated.
What is a Cleft?
Cleft lips and palate are defects that occur in the womb. Around the sixth to tenth week of gestation, the baby’s bones and tissues come together, forming the roof of the mouth and the upper lip. In a percentage of babies, parts of the mouth and lip don’t completely fuse together, leaving an opening, or cleft, in the lip, the palate, or both. A cleft lip can present as just a small opening on the lip, or it can extend up into the nose and gums. A cleft palate will typically affect the soft palate at the back of the mouth, but may cause a hole to develop in the hard palate toward the front of the mouth.
How is a Cleft Lip or Cleft Palate Repaired?
The repair of a cleft lip usually takes place when the child is around three to six months old; the repair of a cleft palate generally happens between the ages of nine and 12 months. Either surgery begins with a consultation with one of our surgeons. The doctor will examine your child and determine the severity of the cleft. He or she will then create a detailed treatment plan that covers everything from anesthesia to recovery. When you and the doctor agree on the planned treatment, he or she will set a date for surgery.
Cleft Lip Repair
Cleft lip repair begins with the administration of anesthesia. With your child sedated, the doctor will begin the surgery. The simpler of the two surgeries, cleft lip repair starts with the doctor making incisions on either side of the cleft. These incisions will create tissue flaps that the doctor will bring together, stitching them to close the cleft. The doctor will work hard to ensure that the resulting scar follows the normal contours of your child’s upper lip. The scar will fade over time as he or she grows.
Cleft Palate Repair
For the more complicated cleft palate repair, the doctor will begin by making incisions on either side of the cleft, using special flap techniques to reposition the muscle and tissue of both the soft and hard palate. He or she will use removable or absorbable stitches to close the repair as close to the middle of the roof of the mouth as possible. Because children with cleft palates have a high risk of fluid buildup in the middle ear, the doctor may elect to place tubes in the child’s ears to drain any fluids and help the child hear better. Your child may need other procedures as he or she grows into adolescence, including extension of the palate and orthodontics.
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