The plastic surgeon repairs the cleft lip shortly after birth, usually at 1 to 6 months of age and repairs the cleft palate by 12 months of age, prior to the child’s first spoken words. Many children with clefts develop hearing problems as a result of chronic ear infections. This problem will require the attention of a pediatric otolaryngologist.
Each child’s speech development is routinely assessed by the speech and language pathologist. If treatment is needed, the speech pathologist works with the parent, the child and a local speech pathologist. Sometimes additional surgery is needed when speech therapy alone does not improve the child’s ability to speak normally.
Surgery involves improving the function of the palate and pharynx (throat) where the air needed for sound is directed. Before the child begins school, any significant residual cleft deformities involving the lip and nose are surgically corrected to help minimize the psychological effects of the cleft deformity. Pediatric dental and orthodontic services begin to play a more important role with the development of teeth during the later years of childhood. Surgery to restore the residual cleft in the dental arch is frequently done at this age.
While nearly all children with clefts will need braces (orthodontia), a smaller number of children will need orthognatic (jaw) surgery. In these children, the growth of the upper jaw remains behind the lower jaw and the face develops a sunken appearance as the child grows into adolescence. The surgery involves repositioning the jaws to improve the child’s bite and appearance. The oral maxillofacial surgeon carefully plans the surgery with other dental specialists (dentist, orthodontist and prosthodontist) to achieve the best results. Once the facial bones are in correct relationship to each other, the final nose and lip surgeries are completed.
Most patients will be seen by multiple specialists, including the plastic surgeon, oral surgeon, orthodontist, speech and language pathologist, dietitian, RN and RN care manager.
No single surgery can correct all of your child’s medical conditions.
Surgical reconstruction of the lip, nose, gum and palate must be timed with the child’s development.
The need for further correction is dependent upon how your child’s face develops. Additional surgeries may be needed over time to modify the changes that occur with growth.
How a scar heals depends on a number of factors:
- Severity of the facial cleft
- Type of surgery involved with the repair
- Care provided after the surgery
- Ability to heal
Perfect symmetry is not possible to obtain and it is important to remember that no individual has exact mirror image symmetry. Children may need dental, orthodontic and/or speech therapy. Each of the specialties play an important role during different periods of the child’s growth. Children with clefts will need to be followed from infancy through adolescence.