Cleft Palate And Cleft Lips: What Parents Need To Know

Posted on: 26 August 2016

A cleft palate or lip is a congenital deformity that forms during the first trimester. As the embryo's head develops, it is formed from the sides, coming together in the middle. When it doesn't fuse together properly, a cleft, or a split, in the lip, palate, or both will result. While this will be surgically repaired once the child is born, it can still leave residual problems. Here are the facts and some of the possible complications that parents should know.

What Is The Cause Of A Cleft?

While a cleft lip or palate is a common birth defect, the exact cause is unknown. It is suspected that it is part genetics, but studies show that environmental factors such as smoking cigarettes, Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, and seizure medications may also play a role.

How Is A Cleft Palate Or Lip Treated?

Surgery is performed as soon as possible, particularly if the infant is having difficulty eating. The surgery is typically done within the first couple of months and should be done no later than when the child is one year old. Plastic surgery may also be done.

Will The Child Be Able To Learn To Talk?

A cleft lip doesn't usually cause any speech difficulties. However, a child with a cleft palate may require the aid of a speech therapist if the cleft is severe or requires subsequent surgeries as the child ages. There is no correlation between mental retardation and a cleft lip or palate.

What Other Problems Are Associated With A Cleft Lip Or Palate?

  • Hearing issues. If the child is born with a cleft lip, hearing isn't usually affected. With a cleft palate, however, hearing issues are common. The muscles  in the palate control the Eustachian tubes, which connects the throat to the middle part of the ear. These tubes equalize the pressure and control the movement of fluid in the ear. This process can be hampered by a cleft palate, causing frequent infections. Repeated infections can cause hearing loss, therefore pressure equalizing tubes maybe surgically placed in the child's ears to prevent pain and delayed speech.
  • Dental issues. A cleft palate can cause misaligned or missing teeth, or teeth that erupt in the wrong spot. Both the baby and adult teeth can be affected. For this reason, a pediatric orthodontist (like those at Cobbe Dental & Orthodontics) should be consulted immediately to prevent even more complications. The child will need to be routinely seen throughout childhood.