Cleft Lip and Palate Surgery: What to Expect

In the developed world, cleft lip and palate surgery for children is a matter of course. Surgery is the only treatment available and is performed not only for cosmetic reasons, but to drastically improve your child’s quality of life. This is because the condition can impinge upon the optimal function of the ear, nose and throat region.

Surgical procedures of any nature are concerning, and they can be particularly stressful when they involve your child. With modern treatment strategies and support networks, positive outcomes for cleft lip and palate conditions are very likely and widely reported.

A team of specialists including an oral/maxillofacial/plastic surgeon, an orthodontist and ENT doctor will work in unison to help your child, supported by a speech therapist and an audiologist. Speech and hearing faculties are checked on a yearly basis, unless circumstances such as an ear infection, should dictate otherwise. Ask the specialists you are working with to determine appropriate timings for these check-ups. Depending on the case, a nutritionist and psychologist could also be involved to further assist in your child’s health and development.

At 3 months of age, intervention is recommended to address the cleft’s soft tissue. In some instances, doctors may choose to wait until there is enough of this tissue to successfully work with. A cleft palate is generally repaired between 9 months and 1 year of age. Ultimately, orthodontic therapy and any further potential oral surgery will be completed by the patient’s teens, given that by this stage, the face will have developed sufficiently.

Scarring left by surgery can gradually improve post-operation. (Mead Johnson, Looking Forward: A Guide for Parents of the Child with Cleft Lip and Palate). Your team of medical professionals can advise on products that will aid with scar healing or if additional operations may further improve your child’s appearance.

Cleft lip and palate surgery before and after photos can be found on these websites. They demonstrate the results that can be achieved:

St. Louis Children’s Hospital Primary Cleft Lip & Nasal Reconstruction Gallery

Alyeska Center for Facial Plastic Surgery & ENT