Cleft lip and palate is a relatively common birth defect involving the mouth and nose. It is typically an isolated issue, although it can also be associated with other syndromes or genetic conditions. A cleft lip is a split or an opening in the child’s upper lip, and a cleft palate is an opening or split in the roof of the mouth. A child may have a cleft lip, a cleft palate, or both. The opening can vary in size, ranging from a small slit in the upper lip to one that is large enough to connect the nose and mouth. It can also be on one or both sides of the nose.
Cleft lip and palate is diagnosed during pregnancy or after the child is born. It is also possible to have very small clefting with no obvious outward change in appearance but can lead to:
- A nasal speaking voice
- Difficulty swallowing
- Recurring ear infections
Cleft lip repair is ideally done when the child is between 3 and 4 months old. The procedure may include nasoalveolar molding in order to improve the anatomy of the lip, gum and nose for a better surgical outcome. During the surgery, the child is put under anesthesia and the surgeon will use skin and tissue from both sides of the cleft lip to make the lip wider, which will help to close the gap.
Cleft palate repair is often performed when the child is between 6 and 18 months of age. During the surgery, the tissue and the muscles on both sides of the palate are connected together to close the gap.
Dental Care for Children with a Cleft Lip/Cleft Palate
A cleft lip and/or palate in the front of the child’s mouth can produce a wide variety of dental problems, including being at a higher risk for cavities. The cleft may also affect the size, shape, number and position of the baby teeth as well as the permanent teeth. Children with a cleft lip and/or palate require early evaluation and interventions from a dentist who is familiar with the needs of children with a cleft.
Here are some things to consider:
- Some children require special bottles or appliances to be able to nurse or to close off the space between the nose and mouth while waiting for surgical correction.
- Orthodontic evaluation should be scheduled early. The reason for this is for the orthodontist to assess facial growth, especially the jaw growth and as teeth begin to erupt, the child’s orthodontist will evaluate the need for both short and long term dental needs, such as alignment of the teeth.
- Cosmetic dental care may be necessary to improve the appearance of the child with a cleft lip and/or palate as well as to meet their needs for speaking and eating. If necessary, a prosthodontist will be responsible for determining to go about replacing missing teeth.
Children with a cleft lip and/or cleft palate require the coordinated services of several specialists. A treatment center that specializes in craniofacial treatments will be able to provide a great deal of information regarding an evaluation and treatment planning. Your prosthodontist will also be able to provide you with suggestions and recommendations regarding the best methods of treatment for your child’s oral health needs.
Contact Trailhead Dental for more information on the dental care we can provide for children with a cleft lip and/or cleft palate.