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One of the most common congenital deformities affecting the face is a cleft lip, palate, or both. This facial irregularity occurs early in development during pregnancy when there is not enough tissue in the mouth or lip area for it to join together properly. This can be a genetically inherited condition or syndrome, or it can be an isolated birth defect; fortunately, it can be restored to normal function and appearance with surgery.
The severity of a cleft varies. It can be as severe as a large gap extending through the lip and gum into the nose or as minor as a small notch in the upper lip. There are several risk factors that may increase a baby’s likelihood of being born with this condition, including:
Family history of the condition
Exposure to substances such as alcohol or smoking during pregnancy
Race – This condition is most common in Asian and American Indian children
Obesity during pregnancy
Males are more likely to be born with a cleft lip than females; however, females are more likely to be born with a cleft palate than males.
A cleft lip or palate can sometimes be diagnosed early in the pregnancy through the use of prenatal ultrasounds, and it is very apparent during a physical examination once a baby is born. Children who suffer from a cleft lip or palate encounter many problems in their daily life in addition to the aesthetic issue.
Children suffering from a cleft palate are more prone to fluid build-up in the middle ear and are at a higher risk for ear infections, which if left untreated, can cause hearing loss. Many children are in need of a surgical procedure to place special drainage tubes in the eardrums and must undergo annual hearing checks.
The presence of this condition increases the risk of cavities and is often associated with missing, extra, or displaced teeth, which requires extensive orthodontic treatment to correct.
The separation in the palate can make it difficult for children to eat and chew properly. This opening can cause liquids to enter the mouth and exit through the nasal passage if consumed at an upward or sideways angle. A prosthetic palate can be worn to make eating easier until the corrective surgery is performed.
Children with this condition often experience difficulty carrying their voices and pronouncing words, and it is not uncommon for their voices to take on a nasal sound.
The great news is that many of these problems are treatable and children with a cleft lip or palate can gain many functions through surgery, therapy, or both. It is not uncommon for children to undergo a series of surgeries as they age and develop to guide the lip and palate into their proper, fully developed positions.
When repairing a cleft palate, the first surgery performed usually occurs during infancy, when the child is between the ages of 6-12 months. The surgeon will enter the mouth and close the gap or hole that has failed to develop, reconnect the palate muscles, and sometimes elongate the palate. Another surgical procedure is usually performed when the child is between 8-12 years of age, which involves placing a bone graft into the palate.
Treatment for a cleft lip aims to close the separation and restore balance and function to the upper lip. The initial procedure is usually performed when the patient is between 1-4 months of age and takes place in the hospital. Additional surgeries may be needed to monitor the lip’s growth and development starting at age two and continuing into the later teen years. Additional treatment such as hearing aids or speech therapy may be recommended as well.
Northeast Surgical Specialists maintains two office locations in Saratoga Springs & Queensbury, NY, and offers various oral surgical procedures and treatments, including the treatment of cleft lips or palates. Drs. Kelling and Condry service all of Saratoga and Warren Counties, including Greenfield Center, Milton, Hudson Falls, Galway, Ticonderoga, Lake George, Corinth, Clifton Park, Gansevoort, Warrensbury, Wilton, Glens Falls, Mechanicville, Queensbury, Ballston Spa, Fort Ann, Malta, Hoosick Falls, Saratoga, Schroon Lake, Saranac Lake, Granville, Ballston Lake, South Glens Falls, Gloversville, Burnt Hills, Cambridge, Greenwich,and Lake Placid.
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