In the early stages of pregnancy (the first 6 to 10 weeks), the tissues in a baby’s upper jaw, nose, and mouth fuse together to form the roof of the mouth and the upper lip. If these areas fail to develop normally don’t fuse, babies are born with either a cleft lip, a cleft palate, or both. It is one of the most common birth defects in the U.S., affecting about one in 700 babies every year, and is more common in boys than girls.

Fortunately both of these conditions are treatable, and in most cases children, teenagers, or adults can have surgery to repair a cleft lip or palate, although it’s recommended that you get this surgery as soon as possible while to minimize the impact on development.

Identifying a Cleft Lip or Palate

In severe cases it is easy to identify a cleft lip or palate that extends to the nose, but in some cases it might just look like a small opening around the edge of the lip or back in the gums. It may impact the soft palate near the back of the throat or the hard palate toward the front, and could be either unilateral (just one side) or bilateral (both sides of the mouth). These conditions generally fit into one of three categories:

  • Cleft lip (more common in boys)
  • Cleft palate (more common in girls)
  • Cleft lip and palate together (more common in boys)

Lip and Palate Formation in Children

A fully formed lip is important for normal facial appearance, sucking on a bottle or breastfeeding, and forming words as your child gets older and begins speaking, and a properly formed palate keeps air from blowing out of your nose while speaking and prevents food and liquid from going outside of the mouth. In more extreme cases these conditions can cause difficulty breathing (a condition called Pierre Robin Sequence).

When children are born with one or both of these conditions it usually requires help from a team of professionals that can assist with feeding, speech, hearing, and psychological development. Surgery is also recommended to correct the defect, and the experienced doctors at Utah Oral Surgery & Dental Implant Center, Drs. Bryan and Steven Christensen, have had many positive outcomes following these procedures.

Treating Cleft Lip & Palate

Surgery for a cleft lip or palate is generally done around the age of 10 years with the goal of closing the separation or gap, providing a more normal shape for the upper lip and mouth, and restoring proper muscle function. If nostrils are deformed they can also be fixed in a later surgery.

Cleft palates often have more severe consequences, and thus should be corrected between about 7 and 18 months of age, though it may vary depending on the overall health and other conditions of the child. During this surgery the doctors will close the gap or hole in the roof of the mouth and/or nose area, reconnect muscles associated with the palate, and elongate the palate if necessary so it can function properly.

In some cases this will only be the first of two surgeries, and a second procedure will be performed when the child is between 8 and 12 years old to repair the hard palate. In other cases someone who has a palate repaired may develop a new hole between the nose and mouth that allows fluid to leak into the nose, called a fistula. Further surgery can often correct this problem.

There are several different ways that the doctors can perform these surgeries, so Drs. Bryan and Steven Christensen will sit down with parents and patients in advance to discuss the benefits and risks and help you make an informed decision about what is best for you or your child.

Call the Utah Oral Surgery & Dental Implant Center at 801-269-1110 today to schedule an appointment to discuss your needs and find out more about the surgery that will help correct these defects.