WHY SHOULD A CLEFT LIP OR CLEFT PALATE BE REPAIRED?
The most immediately apparent answer is to improve the child’s appearance, but the truth is that when a cleft lip or cleft palate is not repaired, it can cause significant challenges throughout life.
Proper lip and palate formation is necessary for such basic functions as sucking; thus, a child with a cleft lip or cleft palate may not be able to feed properly, leading to malnutrition and other issues.
Your palate is the hard part of your mouth above your tongue. It’s made up of bone, muscle, and soft tissue. An important function of the palate is keeping the oral and nasal cavities separate. When the palate isn’t joined properly, food and liquids can easily move between the mouth and the nose, making eating difficult and increasing the risk of choking. Breathing difficulties are also a possibility.
The palate and lips also play a role in speaking, and a cleft lip or palate can hamper a child’s speech development.
WILL OTHER EXPERTS BE INVOLVED?
Repairing the cleft is vital, and a skilled oral surgeon like Dr. McLelland will be a key part of your family’s team. Once the cleft itself is repaired, you can expect other therapies to be necessary as well, so your team will also likely include professionals in the fields of speech, feeding, hearing, and psychology.
Fortunately, with a team of skilled professionals, the outcome of the surgery and following therapies is likely to be excellent.
WHAT ARE THE GOALS OF SURGERY?
Dr. McLelland will plan surgical treatment for cleft lip or cleft palate with these goals in mind:
- Closing the space (the cleft) between the two sides of the lip or palate
- Connecting the muscles so that they can grow and function correctly
- Making sure that the joined palate has enough space so that it functions appropriately.
Every child is different, and cleft lips and cleft palates do vary. For instance, cleft lips can occur on one side (a unilateral cleft) or both sides (bilateral cleft). A cleft palate can be as small as a notch in the gumline or continue down the entire palate.
Dr. McLelland will discuss your child’s needs with you and let you know what you can expect from the surgery and also any issues that may arise. For example, occasionally, splits in the repair occur, and sometimes a hole, called a fistula, can develop, which may require another surgery.