The goals of treatment for cleft lip and cleft palate are to improve the child's ability to eat, speak and hear normally and to achieve a normal facial appearance.
Care for children with cleft lip and cleft palate often involves a team of doctors and experts, including:
- Ear, nose and throat doctors (ENTs, also called otolaryngologists)
- Surgeons who specialize in cleft repair, such as plastic surgeons or ENTs
- Oral surgeons
- Pediatric dentists
- Auditory or hearing specialists
- Speech therapists
- Genetic counselors
- Social workers
Treatment involves surgery to repair the defect and therapies to improve any related conditions.
Surgery to correct cleft lip and palate is based on your child's particular situation. Following the initial cleft repair, your doctor may recommend follow-up surgeries to improve speech or improve the appearance of the lip and nose.
Surgeries typically are performed in this order:
- Cleft lip repair — within the first 12 months of age
- Cleft palate repair — by the age of 18 months, or earlier if possible
- Follow-up surgeries — between age 2 and late teen years
Cleft lip and palate surgery takes place in a hospital. Your child will receive a general anesthetic, so he or she won't feel pain or be awake during surgery. Several different surgical techniques and procedures are used to repair cleft lip and palate, reconstruct the affected areas, and prevent or treat related complications.
In general, procedures may include:
- Cleft lip repair. To close the separation in the lip, the surgeon makes incisions on both sides of the cleft and creates flaps of tissue. The flaps are then stitched together. The repair should create a more normal lip appearance, structure and function. Initial nasal repair, if needed, is usually done at the same time.
- Cleft palate repair. Various procedures may be used to close the separation and rebuild the roof of the mouth (hard and soft palate), depending on your child's situation. The surgeon makes incisions on both sides of the cleft and repositions the tissue and muscles. The repair is then stitched closed.
- Ear tube surgery. For children with cleft palate, ear tubes may be placed, typically at 6 months of age, to reduce the risk of chronic ear fluid, which can lead to hearing loss. Ear tube surgery involves placing tiny bobbin-shaped tubes in the eardrum to create an opening to prevent fluid buildup.
- Surgery to reconstruct appearance. Additional surgeries may be needed to improve the appearance of the mouth, lip and nose.
Surgery can significantly improve your child's appearance, quality of life, and ability to eat, breathe and talk. Possible risks of surgery include bleeding, infection, poor healing, puckering of scars, and temporary or permanent damage to nerves, blood vessels or other structures.
Treatment for complications
Your doctor may recommend additional treatment for complications caused by cleft lip and cleft palate. Examples include:
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- Feeding strategies, such as using a special bottle nipple or feeder
- Speech therapy to correct difficulty with speaking
- Orthodontic adjustments to the teeth and bite, such as having braces
- Monitoring by a pediatric dentist for tooth development and oral health from an early age
- Monitoring and treatment for ear infections, which may include ear tubes
- Hearing aids or other assistive devices for a child with hearing loss
- Therapy with a psychologist to help the child cope with the stress of repeated medical procedures or other concerns
- Wilkins-Haug L. Etiology, prenatal diagnosis, obstetrical management and recurrence of orofacial clefts. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed May 12, 2015.
- Crockett DJ, et al. Cleft lip and palate. Facial Plastic Surgery Clinics of North America. 2014;22:573.
- Cleft lip and cleft palate surgery. American Society of Plastic Surgeons. http://www.plasticsurgery.org/reconstructive-procedures/cleft-lip-and-palate.html#content. Accessed May 12, 2015.
- Campbell A, et al. Cleft lip and palate surgery: An update of clinical outcomes for primary repair. Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery Clinics of North America. 2010;22:43.
- Cleft lip and cleft palate. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/birthdefects/cleftlip.html. Accessed May 12, 2015.
- Cleft lip and cleft palate. American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. http://www.asha.org/public/speech/disorders/cleftlip/. Accessed May 12, 2015.
- Cook AJ. Decision Support System. Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Jan. 23, 2015.
- Your baby's first year. Cleft Palate Foundation. http://www.cleftline.org/parents-individuals/publications/booklets/. Accessed May 13, 2015.
- Parameters for evaluation and treatment of patients with cleft lip/palate or other craniofacial anomalies. American Cleft Palate-Craniofacial Association. http://www.acpa-cpf.org/team_care/. Accessed May 12, 2015.
- Cofer SA (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. June 8, 2015.
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