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A cleft refers to an opening or split in the upper lip or the roof of the mouth - or both. The condition can affect one or both sides of the upper lip. Most cases of cleft lip and palate are believed to be caused by genetic or environmental factors and may be related to other medical issues such as impaired feeding, speech, dental development and hearing. We provide a team approach to care that addresses the full range of issues related to the condition.
Cleft Lip and Palate Diagnosis
Most cleft lip and palate conditions are discovered at birth although, increasingly, cleft lip and palate are diagnosed by ultrasound during pregnancy. We are happy to schedule a consultation to discuss a prenatal diagnosis. Please contact the Plastic Surgery office for an appointment 802-847-3340. If your child's condition is related to a genetic condition, genetic testing may be recommended to help determine the best treatment. You may wish to contact the The UVM Medical Center Genetics Center at The UVM Children's Hospital.
Cleft Lip and Palate Treatment
Treatment for cleft lip and palate involves surgery to correct the defect. It also involves additional therapies that may be needed to treat speech, developmental, or cognitive issues. Several of The UVM Medical Center's plastic surgeons are members of the Vermont State Children with Special Health Needs Craniofacial and Cleft Palate Clinic. This is a specialized team of health care professionals, including practitioners from other disciplines, who work closely with you and your family to develop a treatment plan for your child. The Vermont State Children with Special Health Needs Cleft Palate Clinic is a team affiliated with the American Cleft Palate-Craniofacial Association.
Cleft lip and palate surgery is performed at different times throughout your child's development:
- Infants whose upper jaw shape is out of alignment from a cleft may benefit from preoperative molding prior to cleft lip surgery, either with an orthodontic appliance or external force from adhesive tape.
- Cleft lip surgery is usually performed on children at least 10 weeks old and weighing at least 10 pounds.
- Cleft palate repairs usually take place when a child is between 9 and 18 months.
- After cleft palate surgery, some children may still experience hypernasal speech (when too much air comes out of the nose). In those cases, additional evaluation is needed as their speech develops, to determine if further surgery is required to improve speech.
- In cases where the cleft involves the alveolus (the bone that supports the teeth), bone grafting surgery may be needed to prevent loss of the child's permanent teeth when they come in.
- After adolescence, further surgery may be recommended to improve the jaw's position or to improve the child's appearance.
For more information on cleft lip/palate, visit the Cleft Palate Foundation.
The majority of patients with cleft palate have no genetic component or associated syndromes, however a significant number of people do. One of the more common syndromes associated with cleft palate is velocardiofacial syndrome (also known as Di George syndrome, Schpritzen syndrome, or 22q deletion syndrome). Children with this syndrome may have heart problems, immune system problems, or problems with calcium metabolism in addition to cleft lip. Usually, there is a missing piece of one chromosome (22q deletion), and this can be detected with special blood testing. You may wish to contact The UVM Medical Center Genetics Center at The UVM Children's Hospital.