Cleft lip and palate are birth defects due to which the roof and the upper lip of the mouth are affected. Cleft refers to a gap in the body structure due to which a specific structure is incompletely closed during development. In some babies, only a cleft lip is seen. However, in some others, a cleft palate is also seen along with cleft lip.
What Causes The Condition?
The cause of cleft lip and palate is by and large unknown. It may stem from an underlying genetic condition. In most cases the actual reason for the cleft remains unidentified. Cleft palate, more without a cleft lip, is often associated with the condition Pierre Robin. Cleft palate is seen in about 1 out of 2500 people.
At birth, one or more of the conditions can be seen in a child. A cleft lip may be a small notch on the lip. It can also be a complete split in the lip that goes all the way towards the nose’s base. A cleft palate can be seen on both or one side of the mouth. Problems that may be seen owing to cleft palate / lip are:
- Inability to gain weight or poor growth owing to feeding problems.
- Flow of milk through nasal passage during feeding
- Difficulties in speech
- Recurrent ear infections
- Changes in the shape of the nose
Diagnosis of the Condition
Cleft lip or a cleft palate is confirmed by a physical examination of the palate, nose or mouth. The doctor would advise medical tests to rule out any possible health conditions. A child who is having this condition will have to be taken to a multidisciplinary expert team for treatment. The team usually includes a plastic surgeon, an otolaryngologist, speech pathologist, oral surgeon, orthodontist, pediatric dentist, audiologist, pediatrician, geneticist, nutritionist, social worker, and psychologist.
When the child is between six weeks to twelve months of age, surgery is done for closing the cleft lip. Later in life, surgery may be needed if the nose area is severely affected by the condition. This procedure is also known as palatoplasty. Usually, within the first year of the child’s life itself, the cleft palate is closed so that there is normal development of speech. Sometimes, the surgeon would use a prosthetic device temporarily for closing the palate so that the baby can grow and feed until the surgery can be done.