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What exactly is a cleft lip and palate? How is this condition diagnosed, what difficulties can a baby born with orofacial clefts expect, and what are the treatment options?

How Does A Cleft Lip And Palate Affect A Baby?

The challenges a baby with an orofacial cleft will face depend on the severity of the cleft, whether the lip, the palate, or both are affected, and whether the cleft affects one or two sides. 

Difficulty feeding is one of the most obvious concerns. While those babies who were born with mild cleft lips usually don't encounter any challenges, those with more severe cleft lips and those with cleft palates will have trouble suckling. As the baby gets older and starts to speak, cleft palate also poses apparent challenges — the palate, or roof of the mouth, is used to produce many sounds, and toddlers with untreated cleft palate will face speech difficulties

Since cleft lip and cleft palate causes a rift in the mouth and lip, dental malocclusions can be expected and teeth that are exposed to air constantly due to a cleft lip are more vulnerable to decay. Surprisingly, babies with orofacial clefts are also at a higher risk of developing ear infections and hearing difficulties

Finally, but certainly not least importantly, a cleft lip and palate can lead to severe social isolation. Other children may be afraid of kids with untreated cleft lip and palate, and adults can shun these children as well. All these complications of orofacial clefts make it very clear how important it is to repair the condition as soon as possible, wherever parents have access to medical care.

When Can Cleft Lip And Palate Be Repaired?

Early treatment of cleft lip and palate has several distinct advantages. To start off with, early treatment offers better functioning and asthetic results. Repairing cleft lip and palate before the child starts interacting with other children socially will also help prevent bullying and shunning. 

A cleft lip can be repaired when the baby is as young as two months old, while a cleft palate should also be corrected before the child's first birthday. 

Cleft lip correction surgery involves making incisions on both sides of the cleft, from the nose down to the lip. The surgical team will take care to create an appearance that is as normal as possible, including constructing philtral ridges (those "mountain-like" ridges that lead from the nose to the lip), and repairing any nasal deformities. 

Cleft palate correction surgery involves moving tissues from both sides to the center of the mouth, and closing the gap. Muscle functionality is stressed during this process in order to allow the child to attain normal speech later on. 

When these procedures are performed by experienced surgeons, cleft lip and palate surgery has excellent results. Along with correcting orofacial clefts, the child may also require treatment for ear damage and the services of an orthodontist to help with proper alignment of the teeth.

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