When a child begins to form in the womb, each side of the face and head develop separately and then meet in the middle. A cleft palate or lip is the result when both sides to not fully grow together. This leaves a gap or opening stretching from the lip towards the back of the palate. In some cases, the palate may close but the space at the front of the palate outwards towards the lip does not. This results in a cleft lip. In mild cases, only a slight notch will be noticeable. When the case is severe, the lip, gum, and palate are clearly divided. The division can extend upwards into the nasal cavity.
Surgery is the only form of treatment to correct clefts in the palate and the lip. Cleft palate surgery is first performed while the child is an infant to allow them to eat and breathe normally. The final surgery to repair the hard palate is normally performed when the child is approximately 8 to 12 years old. This will depend on the child's overall growth pattern. Cleft lips are usually repaired when the child is approximately 10 years old. To correct a cleft palate, the doctor takes a small portion of the child's hip bone and closes the division between the two sections of the palate. Closure of the soft tissue is performed using three layers and allowing them to fuse together.
Children and adults experience several benefits of cleft palate surgery. If the case is mild, the main benefit is to improve the look of the area and make the cleft less noticeable. In severe cases, where the division between the two sections of palate is complete, the doctor hopes to be able to restore the full function of the palate. This is accomplished by closing the gap between the two sections and reconnecting the soft tissues that allow the palate and lips to function correctly. Infants born with a cleft palate have the safety surgery performed during the first few months to allow them to eat properly.
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