Complications of Cleft Lip and Palate
Beyond the cosmetic abnormality, there are other possible complications that may be associated with cleft lip and cleft palate. The Cleft Lip and Palate Program brings together a team member that specializes in providing treatment and long-term support for the condition and related issues, including:
- Feeding difficulties — Feeding difficulties occur more with cleft palate abnormalities. Your baby may be unable to suck properly because the roof of the mouth is not formed completely.
- Ear infections and hearing loss — Patients with cleft palate in particular are more susceptible to ear infections due to a dysfunction of the tube that connects the middle ear and the throat, causing fluid collection behind the ears.
Recurrent infections can lead to hearing loss, so patients with cleft palate are often seen by an otolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat specialist) who may recommend the surgical placement of ventilating tubes in the eardrum to prevent fluid build-up and lessen the occurrence of ear infections and associated hearing loss. These tubes are often placed at the time of cleft lip or palate repair, and may need to be replaced as necessary to preserve normal hearing.
- Speech and language delay — Due to the opening of the roof of the mouth and the lip, muscle function may be decreased, which can lead to delayed or abnormal speech. Referral to a speech therapist should be discussed with your child’s physician.
Proper speech is dependent upon many factors, but the most common problems associated with cleft lip and palate are related to articulation and nasal escape during speech. Nasal escape may be caused by a short palate or by palate dysfunction due to problems with the palatal muscle. Patients significantly impacted by palatal insufficiency (also called velopharyngeal insufficiency) may require secondary procedures and can be treated in coordination with our Velopharyngeal Dysfunction Program.
- Cosmetic deformity — As your child grows, he might develop irregularities or asymmetries in the face, either due to clefting or abnormal facial growth. We can help to maximize normal appearance through surgery and other treatments.
- Upper and lower jaw discrepancy — Some children with cleft lip and palate have jaws that grow at different rates, sometimes leading to difficulties with chewing food, improper alignment of teeth, and even early jaw-joint arthritis. Our team specializes in treating these issues.
- Difficulties with nasal breathing — It is not uncommon for some children to have a deviated septum, a problem that can cause significant functional impairment. A septoplasty, a surgical procedure that straightens the septum, can help restore the nasal airway.
- Psychosocial issues — Our specialists in pediatric psychological counseling have helped thousands of children and their families cope with the emotional and social issues that can accompany facial deformities.
- Dental problems — As a result of the abnormalities, teeth may not erupt normally and orthodontic treatment is usually required. The Cleft Lip and Palate Program team includes board-certified pediatric orthodontists and support from a pediatric dentist who consults with our team.