One of the most common birth defects found in infants, a cleft lip or cleft palate malformation occurs when the developing facial structures don’t close properly. In these cases, there is an opening in the upper lift, roof of the mouth, or in both places. Roughly one out of every 700 babies is born with cleft palate issues.
Problems with cleft lips and cleft palates can happen on their own or in relation to other conditions. Although no exact cause has been identified, most doctors believe cleft lip and cleft palates result from genetic factors or exposure to harmful substances, like illegal drugs or certain viruses, in utero. Many times, the exact cause of the cleft problem is never identified.
Because a cleft lip and/or cleft palate can interfere with a child’s ability to eat, speak, and even breathe, parents and doctors must form a treatment plan almost immediately. Surgery on a cleft lip can be performed on babies as young as 10 weeks old. Usually, cleft palate repair happens later, between six and 18 months of age. Follow up treatment and surgeries may occur for many years.
Through out this time, the patient may require special services to address speech, dental, psychological, and other issues. Finding a good dentist to join your child’s time is critical. For example, a child with a cleft lip needs regular checkups, but he or she may also need early evaluation because cleft malformations can generate missing, crooked, or partially formed teeth. As well, an orthodontist can evaluate facial growth and development, particularly the jaw area.