A cleft palate or cleft lip are the most common genetic deformities that affect the face. During a woman’s pregnancy, when there is not enough tissue present in the mouth or lip area for it to join properly, a baby can be born with a cleft lip or cleft palate (or both). This condition may be due to an isolated birth defect or genetics, but a surgical procedure can restore appearance and function to the mouth and face. The severity of a cleft palate or cleft lip varies; it can be as minor as a small notch in the upper lip, but it can also be as severe as a large gap extending through the lip and gum into the nose.
Several factors may increase the likelihood of an infant being born with this condition, including
- Family history of cleft lips or cleft palates
- Cigarette smoking or alcohol consumption during pregnancy
- Gender — Males are more likely to be born with a cleft lip, but females are more likely to be born with a cleft palate
- Race — Commonly occurs in children with Asian and American Indian heritage
- Obesity during pregnancy
To determine if your baby is developing a cleft lip or cleft palate, you will need to have prenatal ultrasounds during pregnancy; these may or may not reveal a cleft lip or cleft palate. Aside from the aesthetic issues, children with a cleft lip or palate face many other day-to-day functional problems.
Dental Problems. Cleft lips and cleft palates increase the risk of cavities in children and can cause missing, extra, or displaced teeth. Sometimes, additional extensive orthodontic treatment is needed.
Difficulty Eating. A cleft palate can make it difficult for children to chew and eat properly. To remedy this problem, a prosthetic palate may have to be worn to make eating easier until corrective surgery is performed.
Ear Infections and Hearing Loss. Children who have a cleft palate are at a higher risk for ear infections, which can ultimately cause hearing loss if left untreated. The cleft palate makes them more prone to fluid buildup in the middle ear. Many children need special drainage tubes in their eardrums.
Trouble Speaking. Children with a cleft palate or a cleft lip usually experience difficulty speaking, including pronouncing words or carrying their voice. Children also commonly experience their voices to become altered with a nasally sound.
How is a cleft lip or palate treated?
Cleft lip and/or cleft palate are treatable. Children with a cleft lip or palate can regain normal functions through surgery, therapy, or both. Treatment for a cleft lip eliminates the separation to restore balance and function to the lip. The initial procedure is usually performed when the patient is 1–4 months old. Depending on the specific condition, additional surgeries may be needed as well, but they will start at age two and continue into the later teen years. Other supportive treatments, like hearing aids or speech therapy, may also be recommended.
At Southern Oral & Facial Surgery, our dynamic surgical team is incredibly qualified to repair cleft lip and palate deformities. If you or your child are in need of a consultation to repair this facial defect, please contact our office in Franklin, TN, or Thompson’s Station, TN, today.