A cleft lip and/or palate are birth defects affecting the roof of the mouth, alveolar process, and/or upper lip. In clefts, the hard and/or soft tissues do not completely develop and close during the first three months of pregnancy. A cleft may be just one side of the palate (unilateral) or both sides (bilateral), and may be part of a syndrome.
A cleft may be caused by your mother’s drug or alcohol use, environmental factors, maternal age, or family history. Babies with cleft palates have problems with speech, feeding, development of teeth, ear infections, and hearing.
The cleft palate is typically surgically repaired between the ages of 12-18 months. Cleft palates may occur in 1 out of every 2,500 births, and may be seen in an ultrasound before birth. After birth, a physical examination of the baby’s mouth will show the extent of the cleft palate.
Because clefting leads to so many complications, people with clefts are often seen by a team of health care providers. The team may include a plastic surgeon, prosthodontist, speech pathologist, oral surgeon, pediatric dentist, and orthodontist.
The prosthodontist’s role on this type of a team ranges from the early intervention with nasoalveolar molding. This is where an appliance is used in infants to help guide the growth of each side of the alveolar clefts. This can also be used to mold the baby’s nose to make the initial surgery more successful. The prosthodontist may also work with mature patients to replace any teeth that perhaps did not form due to the cleft. Sometimes oral appliances are required throughout the process to aid in speech, function, and esthetics.