Cleft Lip and Palate Surgery
Cleft lip and palate are birth defects resulting from an improper formation of the lips or mouth during pregnancy. The lips form between week 4 and week 7, while the roof of the mouth―the palate―forms between week 6 and week 9. However, if the tissues are unable to fuse together normally due to an underlying reason, it results in the formation of a cleft. Together, these defects are called “orofacial clefts”.
A baby may be born with a cleft lip, cleft palate, or both. These defects may either be isolated, or a result of other genetic birth defects. Approximately 70% of orofacial clefts are isolated clefts and can be repaired using surgical methods.
Cleft Lip Repair Surgery
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends performing a cleft lip surgery within the first 12 months of the baby’s life. Usually, a cleft lip repair is done within 1-4 months. After a thorough examination through diagnostic testing and medications, the doctor will start preparing for the surgical procedure. In some cases, the child will be required to wear an intraoral device prior to the surgery. This assists in maintaining the arch of the affected lip.
The surgery begins by administering medications which may include intravenous sedation or general anesthesia. Once the child is sedated, incisions are made on both sides of the cleft to create flaps of tissue. The goal is to use these flaps to bring the two sides together, and then finely stitch (to minimize visible scarring) the area, thus eliminating the unwanted gap.
Cleft Palate Repair Surgery
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends performing a cleft palate surgery within the first 18 months of the baby’s life. Usually, a cleft palate repair is done within 9-18 months. The procedure is comparatively more complicated than the cleft lip surgery, since the muscles and the tissues of the palate need to be carefully repositioned in order to fill the gap. The palate also plays a significant role in the speech development of the baby, therefore, extra caution is necessary.
The procedure begins by making appropriate incisions on both sides of the cleft palate, followed by repositioning the components of the palate―muscles and the hard and soft palates. Once the repositioning is done, the area is sewed together using absorbable sutures.
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