Cleft lip and cleft palate are facial and oral malformations that occur very early in pregnancy, and result in a gap or “cleft” when there is insufficient tissue in the mouth or lip area, causing the available tissue not to join or fuse together properly.
Because the lip and palate develop separately, it is possible for a child to be born with a cleft lip only, a cleft palate only, or both.
Cleft lip is when the split affects the lip only, and not the palate. The cleft may be small and is seen as an indentation on the lip – also known as a partial or incomplete cleft. Sometimes the cleft may go all the way to the nose – which is known as a complete cleft.
Surgery to correct cleft lip is usually performed within 3 to 6 months of age. The stages of treatment start with pre-surgery preparation. Depending on the condition of the lip, either lip-taping or a period of nasoalveolar moulding may be required. Lip-taping and nasoalveolar moulding are nonsurgical methods of reshaping the gums, lips and nostrils to lessen the severity of the cleft.
Using tape or a moulding plate that looks like an orthodontic retainer can help direct the growth of the gums with weekly adjustments. Cleft lip surgery is done to reposition the muscle tissue in the lip and to close the lip gap. At the same time, the nose will be reshaped and repositioned.
Cleft palate is when there is a split or opening in the roof of the mouth. It may involve the hard palate, which is the bony part of the roof of the mouth, and/or the soft palate, which is the back portion of the roof of the mouth. A complete cleft palate may also have a gap in the jaw, while an incomplete cleft palate looks like just a hole in the roof of the mouth (cleft soft palate).
A cleft palate should usually be closed between 6 to 12 months of age so that the child’s speech develops normally.
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