Cleft lips and cleft palates are some of the most common birth defects which develop among infants. A cleft occurs when an area of the mouth, such as the roof of the mouth or the lip, does not form properly during development. The two halves of the mouth form separately during early pregnancy, and sometimes they are not able to join together properly. The result is often an opening in the roof of the mouth (or palate), a cleft lip, or both.
Risks Associated with a Cleft Lip or Palate
In addition to the obvious aesthetic problems associated with a cleft lip or palate, these conditions can dramatically affect many of the day-to-day functions of the face and mouth if not properly treated. It is not uncommon for either of these conditions to make eating, drinking, speaking, or breathing normally almost impossible. The difficulty experienced with eating and drinking is especially problematic for newborns, as they need the essential nutrition nursing provides to continue healthy growth and development. Cleft palates can also cause serious infections, hearing problems, and oral health problems.
Cleft Lip & Palate Treatment
If a child suffers from a cleft lip, a cleft palate, or both conditions simultaneously, surgery is usually required as a part of a larger overall treatment plan in additional to physical therapy, speech therapy, emotional support for the child and family, and other possible treatments.
Cleft palates and lips vary widely in their severity, from small clefts in the soft tissue of the mouth to large openings in the soft tissue and bone of the palate. The course of treatment will depend on the location and severity of the condition. Treatment usually starts before age one, and subsequent treatments and procedures may be necessary throughout childhood and into early adulthood.
The initial surgery is usually performed when the patient is a baby. The lip and/or palate will be restored to reduce fluid buildup in the ears and make the mouth more functional. Some patients require another surgery around age seven or eight to prepare the jaws for their adult teeth. Another surgery may be performed later to fix any final imperfections and reduce scarring once the face is fully formed. These procedures are performed in conjunction with other treatments, such as braces, to perfect the function and aesthetics of the mouth.
If you or your child is diagnosed with a cleft lip or palate, surgery will likely be recommended for treatment. Our oral and maxillofacial surgeons have years of training and experience restoring the balance of facial muscles and structures, and they are highly qualified to repair a variety of facial disharmonies at our office in Kennewick, WA. They have extensive experience providing care and administering anesthesia to pediatric patients and work closely with each child’s family to provide comfortable and safe treatment.