What Are Cleft Palates?

Each year in the United States, more than 6,000 babies are born with cleft palate, cleft lip, or both. Cleft palate and cleft lip are among the most common congenital defects, and the good news is, both issues can be corrected with cleft surgery.

Pacific Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery Center offers state-of-the-art cleft surgeries for patients in the Oakland and San Francisco, California areas. If your child has a cleft palate, cleft lip, or both, here’s how Brandon Kang, DDS, Matt Chroust, DDS, MD, and our team can help.

Cleft lip vs. cleft palate

Although cleft lip and cleft palate may look similar at first glance, they involve different structures and can cause different problems. 

Cleft lip

Cleft lip occurs when there’s a split in the upper lip, either in the middle or on one or both sides of the mouth. The split can be very small, like a notch, or it may extend all the way to the nose. 

Cleft palate

A cleft palate is a split or opening in the roof of the mouth. Often, it occurs along with a cleft lip, but sometimes only the palate is split, with no cleft in the lip.

In newborns, both cleft lip and cleft palate can cause problems with feeding, either from the breast or from a bottle. Without treatment, eating problems and speech difficulties can continue as the child grows. 

Both cleft palate and cleft lip can occur alongside other medical problems or syndromes. Most often, though, they occur on their own in otherwise healthy babies. The cleft forms when the right and left sides of the face grow at different rates during fetal development.

Treating cleft palate and cleft lip

The only way to correct a cleft palate or cleft lip is with surgery. Cleft palate surgery typically is performed when the child is very young — around 18 months of age. By correcting the palate this young, children can avoid speech problems that occur when the palate remains open. Some children with cleft palates require more than one surgery to accomplish a complete correction.

Cleft lip surgery can be performed later in a child’s life, usually around age three, but it also can be performed much earlier. The timing of your child’s surgery is determined after an evaluation by our doctors.

Both surgeries reconnect muscles and tissue to form a natural-looking lip with normal function. Cleft palate surgery uses special techniques to join the palate and sometimes make it longer to aid in speech and other functions, like eating.

Another type of cleft defect, called alveolar defect, affects the upper arch of teeth. Surgery to correct an alveolar arch usually takes place when the child is between six and nine years of age, when baby teeth are replaced by permanent teeth.

Learn more about cleft surgery

Cleft abnormalities can’t be prevented, but they can be corrected. At Pacific Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery Center, our doctors have extensive experience in correcting cleft palates and cleft lips using advanced techniques to restore normal function and a healthy appearance. 

If your child has a cleft palate or cleft lip, schedule a consultation by calling our office most convenient for you or requesting an appointment online today.

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