It would not be uncommon for you to know someone who was born with a cleft lip or a cleft palate. It is estimated almost 2 in 1000 babies, or less than 1% of all children born in the United States in a year have this birth defect. In many cases, mothers who receive prenatal care learn about the complication prior to the birth of the baby through ultrasounds, otherwise it is easily identifiable upon birth.
Children born with a cleft lip and/or cleft palate struggle with eating, speech development and hearing; however, it is expected they will go on to live normal lives if the condition is treated. Below we have provided a brief overview of the condition, as well as what is to be expected with treatment options and long-term care. If you have a child that was diagnosed with a cleft lip or palate, we would be happy to work with you and address their unique needs.
For anyone that has experienced pregnancy, you know ultrasounds can be both an exiting and nerve-wracking endeavor. While it is thrilling to see your little one wiggling on the screen, there is always the chance that you will find out there could be a complication or abnormality that needs to be addressed. Cleft lips can be detected by ultrasound as early as the 13th week by identifying irregularities in the facial structure. If your doctor sees this, they may recommend screening for other genetic conditions that commonly co-occur. However, in most cases the cause of the cleft lip or palate are unknown.
Since the cause is unknown, it’s difficult to prescribe how it can be prevented. While many times it is caused by genetics, doctors still advise taking certain precautions in pregnancy to lower your chances of your child developing this condition. It is recommended that pregnant women abstain from smoking and alcohol as well as increase their intake of folic acid and other nutrients.
The most common treatment for a cleft lip or palate is surgery. In general, the first surgery occurs prior to one year, with follow-up surgeries that could occur throughout childhood and into teenage years. The cleft lip surgery will close the separation in the lip while a cleft palate surgery will close the separation on the roof of the mouth and rebuild both the hard and soft palate. Many providers also recommend ear tubes to reduce the risk of reoccurring ear infections that are common in these cases. Finally, reconstructive surgeries might also be necessary to improve the appearance of the lips and mouth.
It is common for babies born with this condition to have difficulty with feeding. To ensure babies are getting the needed nutrients, parents may work with feeding coaches to find special bottles or feeders specifically created for children with cleft lips or palates. Speech therapy will help correct problems with speaking that are a consequence of the condition.
Finally, children will need intensive dental care due to issues affecting both baby teeth and the development of adult teeth. In addition to routine check-ups, the positioning, size, and number of teeth need to be closely monitored to ensure proactive measures are taken to prevent oral health issues. In addition to seeing a dentist, many children might also require significant orthodontic work. It is important your dentist works collaboratively with all the providers a child with this condition sees.
Cleft lip and cleft palate are both birth defects that need significant early intervention and long-term coordination between providers. If you have a child that has been diagnosed or who is in the recovery stage, we would be happy to work with you and all of their doctors to ensure their unique medical needs are met. Please give our office a call today!
Also published on Medium.