When you have a child born with a cleft lip, palate, or both, it is important that as much as possible to have your child undergo pediatric cleft lip surgery so as to prevent further difficulties as your child grows.
A baby born with an opening on the upper part of the lip or the roof of the mouth or palate is a condition known as a cleft lip or palate.
A baby having this condition may have:
- A cleft lip only
- A cleft palate only
- Both cleft lip and palate
A cleft palate is a condition where the baby is being born with an opening or a cleft in the roof of the mouth known as the palate.
The opening of the palate can either be:
- Just at the back of the palate or the soft palate; or
- It extends into the front of the palate that is behind the gums or the hard palate.
Why Do Cleft Lip and Palate Occur?
The formation of the bones and skin of the upper jaw, nose, and mouth of a baby happens in the early stage of pregnancy. This is when these parts come together and merge to form the roof of the mouth or the palate and the upper part of the lip. When the parts of the lip and/or the palate is not able to fuse together completely, this results in a cleft.
It is still unknown why a baby develops this type of condition, but some say that it may be related to genetics. Some also say that there are external factors that aggravate the risk of this type of birth defect like the following. It is still unknown why a baby develops this type of condition, but some say that it may be related to genetics. Some also say that there are external factors that aggravate the risk of this type of birth defect like the following:
- By taking certain types of medicines during the mother’s pregnancy
- By not getting sufficient prenatal nutrients
- The mother might have been exposed to some chemicals during her pregnancy
- When the mother smokes cigarettes or uses drugs, and or drink alcohol whilst being pregnant
How To Diagnose a Cleft Lip or Cleft Palate
The cleft lip or palate is usually found at the time of the birth of the baby. The condition can sometimes be seen during a prenatal ultrasound. If a child does not have a cleft lip, the cleft palate is more challenging to see as it is inside the baby’s mouth. A cleft palate is usually found after the mother has given birth and the doctor has checked inside the baby’s mouth during the baby’s first newborn exam.
What Should Be Done to Correct a Cleft Lip and Cleft Palate?
When a cleft lip and/or a cleft palate is left untreated, it can cause problems in the following:
- Feeding the baby
- The baby’s growth and development
- Possible ear infections and difficulty in hearing
- Challenge in the child’s speech development
This is why it is crucial to have the condition corrected through pediatric cleft lip surgery as soon as possible.
The Cleft Lip Repair Procedure
This procedure is done by a plastic surgeon. The surgeon will repair the cleft lip of the baby first, and this is usually done when the baby is already 3 months old. This type of method is known as cheiloplasty and this is usually done in a hospital while the baby is under general anesthesia. What this procedure aims to correct is to close the cleft and to improve the shape and the symmetry of the upper lip and the nose of the baby.
If there is a wider gap of the cleft lip of the baby, there will be special procedures that will be done like lip adhesion or nasal alveolar molding or NAM that will help in bringing the parts of the lip closer thereby improving the shape of the nose of the baby.
The Cleft Palate Repair Procedure
When a baby does not have a cleft lip but has a cleft palate, the surgery to correct a cleft palate is called palatoplasty and this is done when the baby is 10 to 12 months old. This type of surgery aims to correct the following:
- To close the opening that is between the nose and the mouth
- To be able to create a palate that will enable to work well for speech
- To help in the prevention of getting food and liquid leak out of the nose.
The palate repair surgery procedure will also be done by a plastic surgeon. The surgeon will close the cleft in layers, and then he or she will rearrange and repair the muscles of the soft palate of the baby in order for it to work better when the baby is learning how to speak. The surgeon will be making two incisions on each side of the palate behind the gums, in order to ease the tension on the palate repair.
Other Surgeries that May Be Needed as The Child Gets Older
After the surgery, there are some kids with cleft lip and/or palate that may still need other types of surgeries as the child gets older. These surgeries might include the following:
The child may need a speech surgery
Children that have a cleft lip and palate are at risk of developing speech problems even if the palate has already been repaired. During your regular appoints with your child’s surgical team, there will be a speech-language pathologist who is going to listen carefully to your child’s speech in order to help the surgeon to decide if your child will be needing another surgery in order to improve the speech of your child.
The child may require alveolar bone grafting
This a procedure wherein the doctor may use a small amount of bone from the hip to help in the reparation of the cleft or the notch in the gums and provide support to the permanent teeth as it starts to grow and this is usually performed when the child is already seven to nine years old.
The child may need nose surgery
Having a cleft lip can also affect the appearance of the nose, so, there are kids who will also benefit from more surgery on the nose. And as the child grows of age, he or she can then undergo more massive nose surgery.