My Child Needs Cleft Surgery. Now What?

My Child Needs Cleft Surgery. Now What?

Cleft lip and cleft palate can cause considerable problems for children born with them — and both conditions are more common than you may realize. The CDC estimates that roughly 1 out of every 1600 babies is born with both conditions, 1 in 1700 is born with just cleft palate, and 1 in 2800 is born with just cleft lip.

Both cleft lip and cleft palate can interfere with your child’s ability to eat, breathe normally, and even speak. Fortunately, today there are state-of-the-art surgical techniques designed to correct cleft defects, so your child can lead a happier, healthier life.

As a top-rated maxillofacial surgeon in Oakland and San Francisco, California, Brandon Kang, DDS, offers advanced surgical treatment for cleft problems in patients at Pacific Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery Center. If your child has a cleft defect, here’s how he can help.

Cleft defects: The basics

Cleft defects develop while a child is still in the uterus, typically from 4-9 weeks after conception. It’s during this period that your baby’s mouth begins to form. 

The mouth structures grow from two sides, with both sides typically developing at the same rate, eventually joining in the middle. In cleft defects, these sides grow at different rates, making it impossible for the two sides to knit together during development. Sometimes, a child is born with a cleft palate, sometimes with a cleft lip, and sometimes with both issues.

Researchers aren’t sure why cleft defects happen, but they do know that some children develop them as a result of genetic differences. These genetic changes may be triggered in part by substances the mother comes in contact with during pregnancy.

For instance, some studies indicate babies are more likely to have cleft defects when you smoke during pregnancy or when you take certain medications, including those used to treat epilepsy. Moms who are diagnosed with diabetes prior to pregnancy also have a higher risk of having a baby with a cleft defect.

Types of surgery

In addition to causing issues with eating and breathing, cleft defects can take a major toll on your child’s self-confidence. Dr. Kang offers several surgical options for treating cleft palate and cleft lip, timing each surgery to correspond with your child’s growth and development.

Cleft lip surgery

Typically performed at around three months of age, while their facial structures are still developing, cleft lip surgery closes the separation in your child’s lip, repairs the underlying muscle tissue, and restores function, all while recreating natural lip and mouth contours. 

If their nostril is involved, that area can be repaired at the same time or during a second surgery, depending on what’s best for your child.

Cleft palate surgery

Cleft palate surgery happens a little later — usually around 18 months of age, when your child begins talking. In addition to closing the gap in their palate, cleft palate surgery reconnects separated muscles and restores your child’s palate so it functions normally.

Alveolar cleft surgery

Alveolar cleft surgery aims to repair the maxillary arch — the top gum area where your child’s front top teeth are located. Alveolar cleft defects typically occur along with cleft lip and cleft palate. These clefts can occur singly or in pairs, with one cleft on each side of their upper gum. Usually, this surgery is performed between 6-9 years of age, when your child’s adult teeth start to erupt. 

After surgery: What to expect

After your child has cleft surgery, they’ll have to follow a special liquid diet or consume only pureed foods while the area heals. Pain medication will help them stay comfortable during the early stages of recovery, and you’ll need to learn a few techniques to care for the incision sites and keep the area clean. 

In most cases, your child will need to avoid using straws or bottles, since suction can interfere with healing. For young children, padded arm restraints can be used, especially during sleep, to prevent them from injuring the site while it’s healing.

Complete recovery will take several weeks. Follow-up visits ensure your child’s recovery proceeds normally, for optimal results and minimal scarring.

Learn more about state-of-the-art cleft surgery for your child

Dr. Kang has extensive experience in cleft repair, using a patient-centered approach based on each child’s unique needs. To find out more about the surgical options that can help your child, book an appointment online or over the phone at the Pacific Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery Center office most convenient to you today.

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