When a child is born with a cleft lip or cleft palate, repairing the problem means more than a cosmetic improvement.
The condition causes problems with swallowing, eating and breathing in the short term, but can lead to additional problems in a child’s skeletal and dental development that may require orthodontic treatment to correct.
What is a Cleft Lip/Palate?
If you touch the roof of your mouth with your tongue, you will feel a seam that goes from behind your front teeth to the rear of your mouth. That seam was created when the palate grew together. A cleft palate occurs when the palate fails to grow together properly during development and a gap or split is created.
Similarly, a cleft lip means that there is a split in the upper lip. Children can be born with a split on one or both sides of the lip, which can create a wider opening into the nose. A baby’s lips and palate don’t develop at the same time, so it is possible for a child to be born with either abnormality or both of them.
Cleft lips and cleft palates are common and occur in almost two out of every 1,000 babies born annually in the United States. This can be hereditary or part of a syndrome, but the cause frequently is unknown and therefore unpreventable.
Children born with cleft lip and/or cleft palate often have dental problems with the upper gum or palate. Problems can include crooked, missing, extra or small teeth. These problems may require orthodontic treatment to correct and sometimes can require surgery to obtain optimum results.
Orthodontic Treatment for Cleft Lip/Palate
Some cleft lip/cleft palate treatments begin immediately after birth. There are some pre-surgical orthodontic treatments that can be done during infancy. If bone grafting is necessary, that typically is done between ages 8 and 10. Treatment to correct the child’s permanent teeth can be addressed after surgery through Phase II orthodontics, including full braces or Invsalign, typically done between ages 12 and 15.
In cases where orthognathic surgery is required, orthodontic treatment usually begins about nine months prior to the surgery. Following the surgery, the braces are maintained for six to eight months to direct the healing.