Expecting a new baby is an exciting time. But sometimes, doctors may discover certain health conditions during routine ultrasounds or even after birth that can overshadow the excitement. Thousands of children are born with cleft lips and cleft palates each year, and while doctors can correct these birth defects with surgery, it’s important to understand how a cleft palate and lip can impact your child’s overall dental health.

Read on to learn more about cleft palates and cleft lips and how to prevent and treat the dental problems associated with them.

How Cleft Palates and Cleft Lips Form

Cleft palate and lip are birth abnormalities that occur early in pregnancy and are often detected during routine ultrasounds. Both of these abnormalities form when the sides of the lip and the roof of the mouth don’t fuse together properly in the womb.

Cleft palates occur when the roof of a child’s mouth doesn’t close all the way, leaving a large opening that can extend into his or her nasal cavity. The cleft can involve either side of the palate and can extend from the front of the mouth all the way to the throat.

As for a cleft lip, this anomaly occurs when the lip doesn’t form completely during fetal development. The degree of the cleft can vary greatly; from mild (a notch in the lip) to severe (a large opening from the lip that extends up through the nose).

Children may be born with cleft lips, cleft palates, or both together. But here’s the good news: children born with a cleft are usually healthy otherwise and the most common problem associated with a cleft is attempting to feed your baby. Here in the United States, multiple treatment options are available to correct cleft palates and cleft lips and fully restore the mouth’s function.

Possible Complications From a Cleft Palate and Cleft Lip

Aside from appearance, clefts can cause other problems, the most notable being issues with feeding and dental problems. Correcting clefts is the best way to curb possible complications, including the following:

  • Ear infections and hearing loss – Ear infections are often due to a dysfunction of the tube connecting the middle ear and the throat. If a cleft palate extends to the throat, your child may experience recurrent ear infections, which can lead to hearing loss.
  • Speech and language delays – Because of the opening in the roof of the mouth or the lip, it may be difficult for your child to use the muscles that help with speech. This can cause a lisp or a delay in speech.
  • Feeding problems – These problems occur more with a cleft palate than a cleft lip. Your baby may be unable to properly such or latch because the roof of the mouth is not completely formed.
  • Dental problems – Clefts can cause a multitude of dental problems. Teeth may not erupt normally, and a cleft may affect the alveolar ridge, which is the upper gum and bone that contain the teeth. Teeth may be in the wrong position, incorrectly shaped, or missing entirely. Orthodontic treatment is usually necessary.

A child with a cleft lip or palate will need a team of healthcare providers, including an oral or maxillofacial surgeon, a pediatric dentist, and an orthodontist. But with early detection and swift treatment, doctors can correct the clefts and your child will be well on his or her way to improved health and quality of life.

Here at Endodontic Specialists, we understand the importance of a healthy, pain-free smile. We believe that everyone deserves a smile that lasts a lifetime! To learn how our team of specialized doctors can help restore your smile and relieve your pain, contact us today and schedule an evaluation.