A cleft lip and/or palate is a birth defect. A cleft lip may be a small notch in the lip, or in more severe cases a split that goes to the base of the nose while a cleft palate may be present on one or both sides of the roof of the mouth and may extend the full length of the palate. These malformations occur early in pregnancy and is a result of an inadequate amount of tissue in the mouth and lip area as well as tissue that failed to join together.
In order to repair these malformations surgical intervention is required. For cleft lip surgery, the patient will be put under general anesthesia. The surgeon will then trim the tissues as needed and sew the lip together. Small stitches will be used to minimize scarring.
Cleft palate surgery, which also requires general anesthesia, begins with the surgeon removing tissue from the roof of the mouth to cover the soft palate. Multiple surgeries may be required to correct a cleft palate. Often these surgeries span over the course of 18 years to not only ensure proper support of permanent teeth but to stabilize the upper jaw and improve speech. Surgery to correct a cleft palate is often done on children who are 9 months old to a year. This allows the palate to grow as the child does. For children with a cleft lip and palate both of the surgeries previously discussed will be done.
After surgery a hospital stay of 5-7 days will likely be required. During this time children will have time to recover and parents/guardians will learn how to care for the surgical wound at home. Complete recovery time can take up to 4 weeks. As children recover they will have to take on a liquid diet.