Cleft Lip and Cleft Palate
What’s the Treatment for Cleft Lip and Cleft Palate?
A cleft lip may require one or two surgeries depending on the extent of the repair needed. The initial surgery is usually performed by the time a baby is 3 months old.
Repair of a cleft palate often requires multiple surgeries over the course of 18 years. The first surgery to repair the palate usually occurs when the baby is between 6 and 12 months old. The initial surgery creates a functional palate, reduces the chances that fluid will develop in the middle ears, and aids in the proper development of the teeth and facial bones.
Children with a cleft palate may also need a bone graft when they are about 8 years old to fill in the upper gum line so that it can support permanent teeth and stabilize the upper jaw. About 20% of children with a cleft palate require further surgeries to help improve their speech.
Once the permanent teeth grow in, braces are often needed to straighten the teeth.
Additional surgeries may be performed to improve the appearance of the lip and nose, close openings between the mouth and nose, help breathing, and stabilize and realign the jaw. Final repairs of the scars left by the initial surgery will probably not be performed until adolescence, when the facial structure is more fully developed.
What Is the Outlook for Children With Cleft Lip and/or Cleft Palate?
Although treatment for a cleft lip and/or cleft palate may extend over several years and require several surgeries depending upon the involvement, most children affected by this condition can achieve normal appearance, speech, and eating.
Dental Care for Children With Cleft Lips and/or Palates
Generally, the preventive and restorative dental care needs of children with clefts are the same as for other children. However, children with cleft lip and cleft palate may have special problems related to missing, malformed, or malpositioned teeth that require close monitoring.
- Early dental care. Like other children, children born with cleft lip and cleft palate require proper cleaning, good nutrition, and fluoride treatment in order to have healthy teeth. Appropriate cleaning with a small, soft-bristled toothbrush should begin as soon as teeth erupt. If a soft children's toothbrush will not adequately clean the teeth because of the modified shape of the mouth and teeth, a toothette may be recommended by your dentist. A toothette is a soft, mouthwash-containing sponge on a handle that's used to swab teeth. Many dentists recommend that the first dental visit be scheduled at about 1 year of age or even earlier if there are special dental problems. Routine dental care can begin around 3 years of age.
- Orthodontic care. A first orthodontic appointment may be scheduled before the child has any teeth. The purpose of this appointment is to assess facial growth, especially jaw development. After teeth erupt, an orthodontist can further assess a child's short and long-term dental needs. After the permanent teeth erupt, orthodontic treatment can be applied to align the teeth.
- Prosthodontic care. A prosthodontist is a member of the cleft palate team. He or she may make a dental bridge to replace missing teeth or make special appliances called "speech bulbs" or "palatal lifts" to help close the nose from the mouth so that speech sounds more normal. The prosthodontist coordinates treatment with the oral or plastic surgeon and with the speech pathologist.