Cleft Lip and Palate Treatment in San Francisco

Cleft lip and palate are congenital problems that begin in the womb when areas of the face fail to fuse together. This can leave babies with:

  • Cleft lip: The left and/or right sides of the upper lip have a gap and the oral cavity as well as teeth may be visible.
  • Cleft palate: The roof of your mouth (palate) is not joined completely.
  • Cleft lip and palate: A cleft lip refers to a split in the lip and/or tissue under the nose, whereas cleft palate refers to a gap in the soft palate (roof of the mouth) or the hard palate (bone under the roof of the mouth).

Each case of cleft lip and cleft palate is different, and San Francisco patients will require different treatment approaches based on exactly what is affected.

How Will Cleft Lip Affect My Child?

Cleft lip is primarily a cosmetic problem that can be corrected in the first few months of your child’s life. The main problems associated with cleft lip include:

  • Nursing: Infants may have trouble breastfeeding or bottle-feeding.
  • Appearance: The main problem related to cleft lip is how other people may react. While this condition does not indicate a developmental disorder, many people associate it with a lack of intelligence or inability to learn at the same pace as others.

The surgery for cleft lip can be performed in the first months of your child’s life to avoid any negative psychological and developmental problems that may arise as a result. An oral and maxillofacial surgeon can repair both your child’s lip and assess dental surgery if needed.

How Will Cleft Palate Affect My Child?

If your child has a cleft palate or both a cleft lip and palate, this is a more serious problem and requires more complex treatment to avoid developmental delay. Some of the problems associated with cleft palate are:

  • Nursing/eating: Babies with cleft palate tend to have a very difficult time nursing or bottle-feeding. This may also affect the way that your child eats solid foods.
  • Speaking: Certain sounds require the lip to form specific shapes. Many children with cleft lip develop speech problems and are difficult to understand because of this.
  • Teeth and Gums: Depending on the location and severity of cleft palate, your child may require dental or orthodontic work to correct any problems caused by the cleft palate.

The top priority for a child with cleft palate is to ensure normal development with eating, speaking, and other crucial milestones. SF Oral Surgery partners with other specialists such as speech pathologists and orthodontists to ensure that your child develops normally.

When Should My Child Get Surgery for Cleft Lip and Palate?

Both cleft lift and cleft palate require surgical intervention to correct them. Surgery is staged according to your child’s development with:

  • Cleft lip repaired when your child is between six to twelve weeks old as surgery only involves suturing the lip together.
  • Cleft palate surgery is performed when your child is nine months to one year to enable him or her to speak without any trouble.
  • Dental procedures: As your child begins to lose her or his teeth, they may need dental repair related to cleft lip and palate. Typically this begins between five and six years old, but may be delayed depending on the teeth that are affected.

While all surgical procedures are effective and safe, timing is crucial to ensuring your child’s treatment is both safe and effective, causing the minimal amount of physical and psychological discomfort.

What Will Happen During Cleft Lip and Cleft Palate Surgery?

Children are incredibly resilient and respond well to surgery at an early age. Both cleft lip and cleft palate surgery will require general anesthesia so that your child is asleep for the entire procedure. General anesthesia is safely administered to children by basing the dose on their weight and monitoring their vital signs throughout surgery.

Once the anesthesia has taken effect, your oral surgeon will:

  • Reshape the tissue around the lip for cleft lip patients.
  • Suture the lip together using stitches to minimize scarring.
  • Cleft palate patients will need tissue from their soft palate (and possibly bone) to close the hole in their palate.
  • Some children may require a rhinoplasty to restore the appearance and function of the nose.

Some patients will require more than one surgery, depending on the severity of their condition. These aspects of treatment will be discussed at your initial consultation and follow-up exams before surgery.

To schedule your child’s consultation for cleft lip and cleft palate surgery, contact our San Francisco office at 415.776.6710.