Cleft Palate Surgery
Cleft lips and palates are birth defects that occur when a baby’s lip or mouth do not form properly during pregnancy. This results in an opening, or a disconnect on either the child’s lip, roof of the mouth, or both. According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, cleft lips and cleft palates are among the most common birth defects affecting children in North America. In the United States the rate of incidence is one in a thousand births, however in some developing countries, the rate of incidence can be as high as one in five hundred births.
Although the defects may occur independently, they usually appear together, appearing in either one or both sides of the face. Cleft lips and palates can lead to severe future complications if left untreated. Children and adults have difficulty speaking, breathing, and eating. Such stark aesthetic features of the patient can lead to depression and anxiety later in life.
Luckily, cleft palates and lips can be remedied quite easily in the right medical conditions. Cleft lip surgery is generally easier to perform than cleft palate surgery. A cleft lip can be as small as a disconnect in the lip, to as large as a gap starting at the base of the patient’s nose. A surgeon would typically trim the tissues, and sew the lip together. Stitches are typically as small as possible, in order to minimize scarring in the future.
Cleft palate surgery however is more reconstructive, especially when performed on older patients. Cleft palate repair requires careful repositioning of tissue not only to close the cleft, but also to repair the roof of the mouth. Incisions are made and flap techniques are used to reposition the hard and soft components of the roof of the mouth. The incisions are then stitched together, leaving the body to finish repairs on the palate.
Factors that may affect surgery include the age of the patient, the severity of the deformity, and the presence of any other medical conditions the patient may suffer from. Ideally and usually, cleft lips and palates are repaired within the first 12 months of the child’s life. Many children will require additional attention after surgery in order to remedy speech and language development. With proper treatment, most of these children go on to live normal and healthy lives.
In the United States, surgical tools and expertise allow for a quick remedying of cleft lips and palates. Although the problem persists in developing countries as well, organizations like Operation Smile are dedicated to fixing cleft lips and palates one case at a time.
Dr. Mark Reichman is an expert at cleft lip and palate surgery. He serves at British Columbia Children’s Hosptial as the Oral and Maxilofacial surgeon on the Cleft Lip and Palate team. With this team, he performs surgeries to correct congenital facial deformities of children born with facial deformities and syndromes.
If you would like to read more on reconstructive palate surgery, check out our twitter @ReichmanMark. Make an appointment with Dr. Mark Reichman today.