Improve a Child’s Ability to Eat, Speak, and Achieve Pleasing Aesthetics

At Southern Oral & Facial Surgery, we understand the delicate nature of a baby’s health and work closely with the child’s care team to ensure optimum results. Our surgeons are all board-certified or board eligible and trained in the specialty of pediatric cases. Our offices in Franklin and Thompson’s Station, TN, welcome patients of all ages and look forward to improving their oral health. Contact us if you have been referred to an oral surgeon or would like to learn more about treatment for your child’s cleft lip or palate.

What Causes Cleft Lip and Cleft Palate?

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.

Importance of Treating Clefts in Infants

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, 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.

Surgical Treatment for Cleft Lip and Cleft Palate

Cleft lip and/or cleft palate are treatable. Prior to treatment, your oral surgeon will collaborate with other members of the child’s care team to design a treatment plan. 3D scans of the child’s face may be taken at our office and shared with other members of the care team. This team that oversees the care of the child may consist of oral surgeons, pediatricians, otorhinolaryngologists, pediatric dentists, orthodontists, nurses, hearing specialists, speech therapists, and others.

Surgery for both cleft lip and palate takes place in a hospital with the child under general anesthesia. The child will not feel discomfort during surgery, and parents will be provided with detailed care instructions to take home and ensure a speedy recovery for the child.

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. Cleft palate repair surgery is performed when the child is 12 months old or earlier, if possible.

Depending on the specific condition, additional surgeries may be needed, but they will start at age 2 and continue into the late teen years. Other supportive treatments, like hearing aids or speech therapy, may also be recommended. Children born with a cleft palate may require ear tubes to reduce the risk of chronic ear fluid, which can lead to hearing loss. Surgeries to improve the appearance of the mouth, lip, and nose may be performed after the cleft has been repaired.