A common congenital deformity affecting the face is a cleft lip, a cleft palate, or both. These facial irregularities occur early in development during pregnancy when there is not enough tissue in the mouth or lip area for it to join properly. This can be a genetically inherited condition or an isolated birth defect. Fortunately, normal function and appearance can be restored with surgery.
The severity of a cleft varies. It can be as minor as a small notch in the upper lip or as severe as a large gap extending through the lip and gum into the nose. There are several risk factors which may increase a baby’s likelihood of being born with this condition, including
- Family history of the condition
- Exposure to substances such as alcohol or smoking during pregnancy
- Race – This condition is most common in Asian and American Indian children
- Obesity during pregnancy
A cleft lip or palate can sometimes be diagnosed early in the pregnancy through the use of prenatal ultrasounds, and it is very apparent during a physical examination once a baby is born. A note of interest: males are more likely to be born with a cleft lip than females; however, females are more likely to be born with a cleft palate than males.
In addition to the aesthetic issue, children who suffer from a cleft lip or palate encounter many problems in their daily life.
Ear Infections and Hearing Loss
Children with a cleft palate are more prone to fluid buildup in the middle ear and are therefore at a higher risk for ear infections, which if left untreated, can cause hearing loss. Many children must undergo annual hearing checks and may require a surgical procedure to place special drainage tubes in the eardrums.
This condition increases the risk of cavities and is often associated with missing, extra, or displaced teeth, which requires extensive orthodontic treatment to correct.
The separation in the palate can make it difficult for children to eat and chew properly. The gap can cause liquids to enter through the mouth and exit through the nasal passage if consumed at an upward or sideways angle. A prosthetic palate can be worn to make eating easier until the corrective surgery is performed.
Children with this condition often experience difficulty carrying their voices and pronouncing words, and it is not uncommon for their voices to take on a nasal sound.
How is a cleft lip or palate treated?
The great news is that many of these problems are treatable, and children with a cleft lip or palate can gain many functions through surgery, therapy, or both. It is not uncommon for children to undergo a series of surgeries as they age and develop to guide the lip and palate into their proper, fully developed positions.
When repairing a cleft palate, the first surgery performed usually occurs during infancy, when the child is between the ages of 6–12 months. The surgeon will close the gap or hole that resulted from failed development, reconnect the palate muscles, and sometimes elongate the palate. Another surgical procedure, which involves placing a bone graft into the palate, is usually performed when the child is between 8–12 years of age.
Treatment for a cleft lip aims to close the separation and restore balance and function to the upper lip. The initial procedure is usually performed when the child is between one and four months of age and takes place in the hospital. Additional surgeries may be needed to monitor the lip’s growth and development starting at age two and continuing into the later teen years. Supplemental treatment, such as hearing aids or speech therapy, may be recommended as well.
Where can I get a cleft lip or palate treated near Watkinsville, GA?
Oral and maxillofacial surgeon, Dr. Fred Simonton, is a specialist in providing solutions for the treatment of complex oral and dental health problems, including the correction of a cleft lip or palate. With two office locations in Watkinsville and Gainesville, GA, Dr. Simonton and his staff serve a wide region, including cities in Georgia, as well as cities in South Carolina and North Carolina.