What is a Cleft Lip?

During the first trimester of pregnancy, between weeks four and seven, the baby's lips are forming. The palate and lips form as tissues from each side of the face and head come together at the center. A cleft lip is the result of the abnormal or incomplete joining of the tissue. A baby with a cleft lip has a gap that may look like a very small indentation or a large opening that goes all the way from the mouth to the nose.

The incomplete formation of the upper lip (cleft lip) or roof of the mouth (cleft palate) can occur individually, or both defects may occur together. Cleft lip repair and cleft palate repair are types of surgery used to correct this abnormal development and are meant to restore function to the lips and mouth along with producing a more normal appearance. Most clefts can be repaired through specialized plastic surgery techniques and will help to improve your child’s ability to eat, speak, hear and breathe.

What are the Symptoms of a Cleft Lip?

A cleft lip is often immediately identifiable by its appearance. The split in the lip may be a small notch or may extend completely through the lip to the gums and up to the base of the nose. Babies born with a cleft lip may have difficulty breastfeeding or taking a bottle.

What are the Causes?

It is difficult to understand why some babies do not develop fully and properly. Incomplete fusion of the tissues that make up the palate and lip may occur in multiple people in the same family. This data suggests that parents may pass along certain genes that increase the chances of a cleft lip. Some studies suggest that, for these babies with the inherited gene, it then takes an environmental factor in the womb for the cleft to occur.

Who is At Risk of Developing a Cleft Lip?

According to statistics, approximately one in every 2,800 babies born in the United States has a cleft lip (without cleft palate). This condition is the fourth most common congenital disorder in our country. It may occur as a result of several factors. Aside from family history, these include:

  • Alcohol consumption during pregnancy
  • Smoking during pregnancy
  • Mother having diabetes before pregnancy
  • The use of certain medications during pregnancy
  • Obesity during pregnancy
  • More baby boys are born with cleft lip than baby girls

How is a Cleft Lip Diagnosed?

A cleft lip may show up on a prenatal ultrasound. That said, the imaging at that time should be viewed as inconclusive. Even if a cleft lip is suspected due to imaging, it is not confirmed until birth, when the doctor can perform a detailed visual and physical examination of the infant.

What are the Treatment Options for a Cleft Lip?

Multiple specialists may be involved in caring for a child with a cleft lip or palate. Dr. Brian Olack, FACS is a Board Certified Plastic Surgeon at Olack Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery. Using his exemplary training and knowledge, he performs surgery to close the separation of the cleft lip. Surgery is performed using general anesthesia, usually when the baby is three to six months old. During the procedure, the doctor creates flaps of tissue by making incisions on each side of the cleft. He then stitches the flaps of muscle, connective tissue, and skin together to restore appearance and function.

Schedule a Consultation to Discuss Cleft Lip Repair

If you would like to know more about how Dr. Olack can repair a cleft lip, please contact Olack Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery in Show Low, AZ. Call our office at 928.537.6767 to schedule a consultation today!

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