If your child suffers from cleft lip or cleft palate, you are not alone. It is estimated that one in every 700 babies born in North America suffers from this condition. In fact a cleft, which means “split” or “opening”, is one of the most common birth defects.
Both cleft lip and cleft palate are treatable, most often within the first or second year of life. With the proper treatment, your child has an excellent chance of leading a completely healthy and normal childhood.
How It Occurs
During early pregnancy (typically the first six to ten weeks), the bones and tissues of a baby’s mouth, nose, and upper jaw fuse together to form the roof of the mouth and upper lip. A cleft palate or cleft lip occurs when parts of the lip and mouth do not fuse together, leaving a split appearance.
Besides the irregular appearance, a cleft lip or palate often makes feeding and proper speech challenging. A cleft may also increase the risk of developing ear infections, hearing loss, and dental problems. This complex condition may require several surgical procedures, performed at different times. The medical team could include a number of specialists including an oral surgeon, a pediatric dentist, an orthodontist, and a plastic surgeon, among others.
Surgical Treatment and Procedure
Under typical circumstances, the first goal of treatment is to “close” the gap in the lip or palate. It is ideal that this reparative procedure take place as soon as is practical for the child, and can actually begin as early as six weeks of age.
General anesthesia or intravenous sedation is administered so that your child won’t experience any pain. When repairing a cleft lip, your oral surgeon will typically make an incision on each side of the cleft, creating several “flaps” of tissue. These flaps are then stitched together, closing the gap. By planning suture lines to follow the natural contours of the face, surgical scars are kept as limited and unobtrusive as possible.
Cleft palate treatment is a bit more involved, and includes rebuilding the soft tissue, muscle, and bone that make up the roof of the mouth. Initial surgery is typically performed between 6 and 18 months of age. Similar to the cleft lip procedure, cleft palate surgery creates specialized flaps which are used to reposition the soft tissue and close the gap.
Afterwards, your child may be required to wear specialized equipment, including a custom retainer called a nasal alveolar molding device (NAM), or an artificial palate known as an obdurator.
In order to restore full form and function to the mouth, and depending on the complexity of the child’s condition, additional procedures may be necessary to fully correct the defects. These may include:
- Plastic surgery
- Orthognathic (jaw) surgery
- Speech therapy
Your Yuba City Dentist will continue to see your child periodically, beginning with age one. The dentist will determine if bone grafts are required to repair the hard palate, a treatment that is available beginning with age eight. If tooth alignment is now off, it can be corrected through orthodontic care, beginning around the age of 12.
Yes, a child’s cleft lip or palate is a birth defect that can prove challenging to deal with. But it is important to remember that it is relatively common and can be successfully treated. At the Yuba City Dentistry Group, we are happy to lend assistance to both you and your child in the case of this delicate condition, and we will ensure that he or she gets the required support that leads to a normal, healthy and happy childhood.