Understanding and Correcting the Cleft Palate

As difficult as it may be to believe, we all actually start out with a cleft lip and palate.  The head forms early during normal fetal development and, as the process continues, special cells from each side of the head grow toward the center and join together, forming facial features like the lips and mouth.  If all occurs as it should, the clefts in the lip and palate fuse together between the 6th and 11th weeks of pregnancy.  However, in babies born with cleft lip or cleft palate, one or both of these splits have failed to fuse, resulting in a separation, or cleft, in the roof of the mouth and/or upper lip that needs to be corrected with reconstructive plastic surgery procedures.

Clefts in the lip can be as minor as a tiny notch in the upper lip or as extensive as a full split that extends into the nose while a cleft palate can range from a small malformation that causes minimal problems to a large separation that interferes with eating, speaking, and even breathing.  They are believed to be caused by one or more of three main factors: an inherited characteristic or gene passed on from one or both parents, exposure to various toxins and certain medications during pregnancy, or any of more than 400 different genetic syndromes, including Waardenburg, Pierre Robin, and Down syndromes.  Without cleft palate surgery, clefts can cause infants to experience problems feeding and breathing.  Malformation of the upper airway can result in nasal difficulties like a deviated septum, which may require rhinoplasty to correct.  It can even affect the function of the Eustachian tube and increase the possibility of persistent fluid in the middle ear, which is a primary cause of repeat ear infections.  In the long term, this can result in hearing loss and, particularly when combined with the malformation of the mouth and lips, can also cause speech and language delays.  The cleft can also affect the formation of the gums and jaw, affecting the proper growth of an infant’s teeth.

Treatment of a cleft palate with maxillofacial surgery needs to be specifically tailored to the overall health of the child and the severity and location of the cleft.  Because clefts can interfere with physical, language and psychological development, treatment is recommended as early as possible.  Cleft palate surgery, or palatoplasy, which can be done as early as nine to 18 months, involves reconstructing the roof of the mouth to help not only with appearance, but with function as well to insure the patient will maintain both form and appropriate use as he or she grows.  Multiple surgeries and long-term follow-up are often necessary to achieve optimal results.

If you are interested in learning more about Atlantic Plastic Surgery, P.C. or the plastic surgery procedures our plastic surgeons perform, contact us at one of our Atlanta, Alpharetta, Cumming, or Newnan offices.  Additionally, some plastic surgery procedures can be covered by insurance and we provide a variety of options for financing, including Care Credit®, in order to assist you.  Please contact us with any questions you may have concerning the financial planning of your procedure and don’t forget to follow us on FacebookTwitter, and Google+ for the latest news.