Cleft Lip and Palate
Cleft lip and cleft palate are 2 different birth defects that are often seen together. Cleft lip and palate are caused by the structures of the lip and roof of the mouth not completely developing by birth.
Cleft lip and palate repair from the skilled specialists at The University of Kansas Health System can restore both appearance and function. Before and after surgery, our multidisciplinary team offers support to you and your child across every aspect of cleft lip and palate care, from speech therapy and dental concerns to ear infections or hearing impairment.
What are cleft lip and palate?
Although cleft lip and palate are often referred to as a single issue, cleft lip and cleft palate are actually 2 separate types of birth defect:
Cleft lip and palate frequently occur at the same time, although some babies are born with only cleft lip or cleft palate.
Cleft lip and palate symptoms and risks
The primary symptom of cleft lip and palate is an abnormal appearance to the upper lip or the roof of the mouth. The appearance of a cleft lip and palate typically include:
- A noticeable gap in the upper lip tissue that extends up to the nose
- A small or large split in the upper lip
- An opening in the roof of the mouth
Additional symptoms can also occur in combination with cleft lip and palate:
- Chronic ear infections
- Dental complications
- Hearing problems
- Problems with feedings, including inability to latch during nursing
- Problems with swallowing
- Speech impediments
While cleft lip and palate are fairly common birth defects, there is no known cause. There are several possible risk factors during pregnancy that doctors are still researching:
- Certain medications taken during early pregnancy, such as epilepsy medication
- Diabetes, including gestational diabetes
- Smoking while pregnant
Either genetic factors, environmental factors or both could contribute to the development of cleft lip and palate.
Cleft lip and palate diagnosis and screening
The presence of cleft lip and palate can often be detected by a prenatal ultrasound, sometimes as early as 16 weeks into pregnancy. The diagnosis is then confirmed at birth based on visual appearance.
Not all instances of cleft lip or cleft palate show up on an ultrasound, in which case the condition is diagnosed at birth instead. In rarer cases, a cleft palate might not be diagnosed until later if it’s not immediately visible due to its location at the far back of the mouth.
Cleft lip and palate treatment
One of the most common birth defects, cleft lip and palate can cause significant issues with feeding and speech if left untreated. The treatment for cleft lip and palate is surgical repair. Cleft lip and palate repair surgery has 2 goals:
- To correct facial appearance
- To restore full function
Because early intervention is key in fixing cleft lip and palate, the surgery is usually performed in infancy. Cleft lip repair surgery can be scheduled earlier than cleft palate surgery, which needs to take place when the child is a bit older.
Repairing cleft lip and palate typically requires multiple surgeries. The number of surgeries varies depending on many factors, such as the degree of the defect and whether speech impediments are present. Your doctor will work with you to decide on the best treatment plan and surgery schedule for your child’s needs.
In addition to surgically correcting cleft lip and palate, your child may also need ongoing support services:
- A pediatric ear, nose and throat specialist can play an important role in cleft lip and palate treatment to closely monitor ear health.
- An audiologist can address concerns related to hearing loss.
- Dental problems are another complication associated with cleft lip and palate that may require specialized orthodontic care.
- Speech therapy can help correct abnormal speech patterns that formed prior to surgery.