It is rare these days to see a person walking down the street with a cleft palate or a cleft lip. Part of the reason that is true is that the surgical procedures have gotten so good at repairing the cleft palate or cleft lip it is hard to even notice there was a problem in the first place. If surgeries are done properly and at the right time, there is no reason not to believe a person cannot look as though they never had a cleft palate or a cleft lip, to begin with.
According to the CDC, it is estimated that roughly 2,650 babies are born every year with a cleft palate and 4,440 babies are born with a cleft lip. The cleft lip and the cleft palate are types of birth defects that can affect a baby’s ability to eat and breathe. These problems could lead to sleep issues and more severe breathing issues, even death. Both of these conditions require surgery for repair and, thankfully, the procedures have gotten very advanced. The two types of clefts–lip and palate–are basically the same in terms of how they were formed but affect the face and mouth slightly differently.
Somewhere between the fourth and seventh weeks of a woman’s pregnancy, the baby’s lips forms. As a baby develops over the period of a woman’s pregnancy, the body tissue, and cells grow from the baby’s head toward the center, joining into what becomes the baby’s face. It is the joining of these tissues and cells that form the facial features of the baby, like the lips and the mouth.
A cleft lip happens if the tissues and cells that are supposed to have come together to make the lip do not entirely do so. This results in the upper lip having an opening in it. This opening could be a slight slit or a very large opening going all the way into the nose.
A cleft palate comes on a little later in the development of a fetus. Somewhere between the sixth and ninth weeks of a woman’s pregnancy, the roof of the mouth is formed. This is also known as the palate. When the tissue that forms the roof of the mouth does not join together properly, there is a hole in the palate leading into the nose. This is referred to as a cleft palate. Sometimes there is a hole in the front, sometimes there is a hole in the back, and sometimes, there are two holes. It all depends on the individual child.
The wonderful thing about living in this world when it comes to these two defects is that we have surgical procedures that can fix the defect and even disguise the effects of the defect. Having surgery done to repair these two defects are much more than simply cosmetic. Surgery can help prevent a baby from getting an abnormal amount of sinus infections, having sleep disordered breathing, and breathing issues in general. Cleft lip and cleft palate repair are very necessary for the future health of babies who are born with them.
The best time to have the surgery for either a cleft palate or a cleft lip is early. For the cleft lip, surgery is recommended in the first twelve months of life. For the cleft palate, it is recommended that surgery take place within the first year and a half of a baby’s life. With these delicate surgeries being done so early on in the development of a child, the repaired clef can begin to grow as the child grows.
In addition, surgeries have become so much more delicate. The scars that many young people live with after the procedure is done are very small. Many are barely visible. This gives a child a new lease on life. Their airways have been repaired and their full smile has been given back to them by some of the greatest doctors out there.
The children with a cleft palate or lip are going to be alright.