With review and contributions from Otolaryngologist and Facial Plastic Surgery Specialist Jewel Greywoode, MD (Uptown)

Sometimes, babies are born with a cleft lip or palate. What causes this? How can it be treated?

What are cleft lips and palates?

A cleft lip occurs when the tissue that forms the lips doesn’t completely join together when the baby develops during pregnancy. A cleft lip can either be a small slit, or it can be an opening that goes all the way to the nose.

Jewel Greywoode, MD

Similarly, a cleft palate occurs when the tissue that forms the roof of the mouth doesn’t completely join together during the baby’s development. In some babies, both the front and back of the palate can be open. In others, only the hard portion of the roof of the mouth can be involved. CEENTA ENT doctor Jewel Greywoode, MD, said.

Cleft lips and palates may cause difficulties feeding and swallowing, difficulty speaking, a higher occurrence of ear infections, hearing problems, and problems with teeth. While most cleft palates are identifiable at birth, some aren’t recognized until later in the child’s life.

What causes cleft lips and palates?

Doctors are not certain what causes a cleft lip or palate, but think it might be caused by genetics, environmental factors, or food the mother consumes while pregnant.

That said, doctors have noticed a higher correlation of cleft lips and palates with pregnant mothers who smoke, those who have diabetes, and those who use some epilepsy medicines.

How are cleft lips and palates treated?

The treatment of a child with a cleft lip and/or palate is performed by a team of healthcare providers so all the child’s needs are addressed. This includes a pediatrician, a speech therapist, a dentist, an otolaryngologist, a geneticist, an oral surgeon, and a surgeon to repair the defect, like a facial plastic surgeon.

“As a facial plastic surgeon, it is a privilege to play a role in the transformation of the lives of those with cleft deformities,” Dr. Greywoode said. “I have the joy of being part of a multidisciplinary care team and developing a long-term relationship as we care for these individuals.”

Fortunately, the surgical repair is relatively easy to perform. The cleft lip, if present, is often repaired first, and can be done as early as 3-6 months of age. The palate is repaired later and generally occurs around 12 months of age, depending on the type and severity of the cleft and whether they child has other medical issues.

Care of a child with a cleft lip and/or palate involves a whole team for many years, and the majority of children can lead normal lives.

If your child has a cleft lip, palate, or both, don’t hesitate to get them the care they need.

This blog is for informational purposes only. For specific medical questions, please consult your doctor. Would you like an appointment with Dr. Greywoode? Call 704-295-3000. You can also request an appointment online or through myCEENTAchart.


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