How Cleft Palate Surgery Saves Lives

How Cleft Palate Surgery Saves Lives


Around the world, every three minutes there is a baby born with a cleft lip or palate. It is estimated that cleft lip with or without cleft palate affects 1 out of every 940 births in the United States, totaling approximately 4,437 cases each year. Organizations such as Operation Smile have saved the lives of numerous children suffering from a cleft palate of cleft lip, a deformity caused during birth. Operation Smile’s mission is to give every child exceptional surgical care, as they believe all children deserve to be treated as if they were their own.

What is a cleft palate?

An orofacial cleft is when a baby is born with an opening in the lip and/or roof of the mouth (palate). The word cleft defines how something is split, or partially divided into two. During the first 6 to 10 weeks of pregnancy, the bones and tissues of a baby's upper jaw, nose, and mouth normally come together (fuse) to form the roof of the mouth and the upper lip. A cleft happens when parts of the lip and mouth do not completely fuse together.

A cleft lip may just look like a small opening on the edge of the lip, or it could extend into the nose. It may also extend into the gums. A cleft palate can vary in size and severity. It might affect just the soft palate, which is near the back of the throat, or it could also make a hole in the hard palate toward the front of the mouth. Having a cleft palate can affect speech, eating, hearing loss, and a host of other issues, and surgery is needed to repair it.

Treatment Options:

Treatment Team

If your child has a cleft lip or cleft palate, your pediatrician will talk to you about a cleft lip and palate treatment team. This team of health care professionals will work together to meet your family's needs and, ultimately, help your child transition to adult care.

Besides the pediatrician, your child's treatment team may include:

  • Plastic surgeon
  • Ear, nose, and throat physician (otolaryngologist)
  • Oral surgeon
  • Orthodontist
  • Dentist
  • Speech-language pathologist
  • Audiologist
  • Nurse
  • Social worker
  • Psychologist or therapist
  • Geneticist
  • Team coordinator

Surgical Treatment:

A cleft lip is usually surgically repaired in the hospital using general anesthesia when a child is 3 to 6 months old. If the cleft lip is wide, special procedures like lip adhesion or a molding plate device might help bring the parts of the lip closer together before the lip is fully repaired. Cleft lip repair usually leaves a small scar on the lip, under the nose.

A cleft palate can usually be repaired when a child reaches 9-12 months of age. Plastic surgeons connect the muscles of the soft palate and rearrange the tissues to close the cleft. This surgery requires general anesthesia and a short hospital stay for recovery.

The goal of surgery is to create a palate that works well for speech. Some kids, however, will continue to sound nasal after cleft palate repair, and some may develop a nasal voice later on.

More surgeries may be needed as children grow older and their facial structure changes, and can include surgeries like pharyngoplasty, which helps improve speech, or bone grafts, which help provide stability for permanent teeth. A bone graft closes gaps in the bone or gums near the front teeth and is usually done when children are between 6 and 10 years old.

If you need more information regarding cleft lip or cleft palates, call Atlantic Center Surgery at (954) 983-1899 to request an appointment.