Every year in the US, over 2,600 babies are born with a cleft palate and over 4,400 with a cleft lip. Typically clefts are isolated, occurring without any other defects. Cleft lip and palate develop early in pregnancy, when separate areas of the face begin to develop individually and then merge. Part of this process requires the left and right side of the mouth and lips to come together; when there is not sufficient tissue for these features to align properly, the result is a cleft.

Cleft lip or palate do not only affect the appearance of a child; the function of sucking to feed for a baby is essential for growth, connection to the mother and proper development, and much of this can be lost with a cleft. Further, speech impairment may result from the lack of mobility of the lips and mouth.

Cleft Lip vs. Palate

While both cleft lip and palate are formed during the same stage of pregnancy, clefts may present themselves in several ways. A cleft lip creates an opening in the upper lip between the mouth and nose due to misalignment of the facial features during pregnancy. This condition makes it look as though there is a split in the lip, and it may only occur on one side. In this case, it is referred to as a unilateral cleft, while a cleft lip on both sides is bilateral. Cleft lip may also affect the gums depending on the severity of the defect.

A clef palate occurs on the roof of the mouth. This condition is typically more serious, because it involves the inner workings of the mouth and is made up of bone, muscle and wet skin. A cleft palate affects speech patterns and eating ability more severely than cleft lip. The palate’s job is to prevent the flow of air, food and liquids from unintentionally traveling up the nose, so when a cleft palate creates an opening in the roof of the mouth, there is nothing blocking the path to the nasal passage.

About 1 in every 700 babies is affected by clefts, and these conditions are treated on a case-by-case basis, depending on the health of the baby and severity of the defect. It is important to take extreme care and elicit the health of several doctors to manage feeding, speech, hearing and psychological development that may be affected by a cleft. If surgery is recommended, you should choose a skilled, experienced and qualified oral and maxillofacial surgeon for the best results for your child.

Cleft Lip & Palate Surgery

The goal of cleft surgery is to restore muscle function and natural facial shape by closing the separation and treating the deformity. Ideally, these surgeries are performed as soon as the baby is healthy enough to withstand such a procedure, in order to cause as little damage to his or her growth and development. If damage to the nostrils is not resolved after surgery, a follow up procedure may be necessary for the child’s best interest.

Following surgery, the child will immediately feel results in the ease of swallowing, breathing and feeding. The healing process following the procedure requires special attention from parents in ensuring the child’s comfort and following care instructions very carefully. Dr. Elias will be available to you following surgery for any questions and to administer extra care if the child experiences any complications.

Results from cleft surgery are typically very successful. Many children will continue to notice light scars or slight facial misalignment as they grow, but the functionality and level of development are the most important factors in treating these conditions.

Because We Care

When choosing your surgeon for your child’s cleft surgery, it is important to consider all qualifications and experience in order to see the best results. Dr. Elias is an experienced oral and maxillofacial surgeon and truly loves what he does when he is able to help a child or family through a trying situation. He is known as LA’s most caring surgeon, and will do whatever it takes to make you feel comfortable throughout the difficult process. As a father, Dr. Elias understands how difficult it is to see your children suffering, and he takes special care to provide you with support and give your child the highest quality care.

If you have any questions or would like to speak to Dr. Elias regarding this procedure, please call the Southern California Center for Surgical Arts at 818-696-4425. We would be happy to help you through this or any of your oral/maxillofacial surgery needs.