The excitement surrounding the birth of a new baby is a special time. You want everything to be perfect. Occasionally, however, babies are born with a cleft lip, a cleft palate, or both.
While seeing this in your newborn is heartbreaking, it’s essential to know such common birth defects are correctable, and there is hope for helping your child overcome these early challenges.
What Is a Cleft Lip and Palate?
Early during pregnancy, your baby’s face and mouth develop. During this process, both sides of the upper lip join together, and the roof or palate of the mouth develops. A disruption in either of these can lead to a cleft lip or palate.
A cleft lip is a split in the upper lip skin, which ranges in size from a tiny opening to a large, extended opening involving the top jaw and gums. Essentially, a cleft lip refers to an opening or split in the baby’s upper lip to the nose.
A cleft palate is a cleft, split, or opening or split in the palate or roof of the mouth, either in the back or near the top of the gums.
These facial features can happen together or separately and can occur on just one side or both.
What Are the Causes of Cleft Lip and Palate?
The cause of facial structures failing to form correctly, resulting in a cleft lip or cleft palate, is relatively unknown. Professionals within the medical field believe it to be the result of some genetic condition or due to certain environmental factors. However, the following may be at least partially to blame in many circumstances.
Genetics are to blame when a parent passes on genes that cause the splitting or clefting. The clefts may be an inherited trait and tied to the family’s medical history.
Actions taken during pregnancy may lead to the cleft lip and palate. These include:
- Using tobacco, or drinking alcohol during pregnancy
- Experiencing some type of vitamin deficiency, like folic acid
- Taking certain medications
- Suffering from a viral illness
- Exposure to chemicals
Certain pre-existing or developing health conditions may affect fetal development, including:
- Diabetes, diagnosed prior to pregnancy
- Infections, such as the German measles (rubella) during pregnancy
- Obesity before and during pregnancy
A cleft lip and palate may also result as a condition of certain syndromes, including:
- Van der Woude syndrome:
- Kabuki syndrome
- Stickler syndrome
Even if no cause is obvious for your child, know that this is the case for many families. Sometimes the cause is just not definable.
How Is Cleft Lip or Cleft Palate Diagnosed?
Identification of these birth defects is occasionally found during a routine prenatal ultrasound. However, the majority are first seen when the baby is born or during an initial exam.
These birth defects are recognizable as a tiny notch or indent in the baby’s upper lip or a noticeable split or opening extending up to the nose. For a cleft palate, there may be a noticeable separation in the roof of the baby’s mouth. In some circumstances, there are no visible signs of a cleft palate in a newborn.
What Are the Symptoms?
Babies often experience challenging circumstances if born with a cleft lip or palate. While much depends on the condition’s severity, the following are common effects on a child, especially if these birth defects are not corrected early.
- Feeding difficulties: Feeding is a significant concern for those born with these defects. Babies may experience difficulty latching on and using suction to nurse effectively. As the child grows, further difficulties with eating become apparent.
- Speech difficulties: Children with a cleft lip or palate may have difficulty speaking, and their voices may be nasal. The palate is used to form sounds, so without repair, a cleft palate can affect speech development. Following surgery of the palate, speech may still be challenging and also difficult to understand.
- Temporary hearing loss or other ear problems: If not treated early, those born with a cleft palate may suffer various ear infections due to fluid building up in their middle ear. Temporary hearing loss often results if not addressed.
- Dental health issues: A cleft can extend into the upper gum area, affecting normal tooth growth and development. Additional dental issues often appear in those with clefts, including:
- Cavity development in larger numbers
- Missing, crowded, crooked, or malformed teeth
- Poor teeth or jaw alignment
- Defects in the supporting bone of the alveolar ridge (bony upper gum area), leading to a variety of dental problems.
What Are Treatment Solutions for Cleft Lip and Palate?
Treatment for a cleft lip or palate will depend on a few factors, including the type of split, or cleft, and the overall health of your child.
If minor, one treatment or cosmetic dentistry procedure will potentially correct it. If more severe, say on both sides of the lip and/or palate, your child may need surgeries and treatments well into the teenage years.
These treatments can include bone grafts, palate expanders, and braces or Invisalign trays. Your child may also need additional surgeries to improve appearance, stabilize the jaw, or assist with better breathing
Following corrective surgeries and treatments, your child will most likely need treatment for related issues. Necessary specialists might include speech therapists, audiologists, and nutritionists.
Born with a correctable cleft lip and palate also makes your child susceptible to more dental problems, including an increased risk for cavities. Orthodontic treatment will also be a possible need.
Make an Appointment for Your Child Today
If your child receives treatments for a cleft lip or palate, his or her dental health will be a priority in the years ahead. We can develop a unique treatment plan and provide the compassionate care your child needs now and in the future. Call us today to schedule an appointment.