When a child is born with a cleft lip, it can feel overwhelming to the parents and family. After all, this congenital birth defect can impact how the child eats, suckles, breathes and hears. The child might not be able to drink from a breast or bottle and might benefit from tube feeding. A cleft lip and palate can mean multiple, strategic surgeries during their childhood and into adolescence.
However, with today’s modern medicine, cleft lip surgery can occur before your child starts to walk and can even be combined with other craniofacial procedures, including a cleft rhinoplasty, to bring children the best outcomes possible.
What Does a Cleft Lip Surgery Do?
A cleft lip is a craniofacial anomaly that occurs in early in utero development. If a child is born with a cleft lip, the first surgery normally takes place between the ages of 3 and 4 months old (in some cases where there are more pressing medical concerns, this surgery is often postponed). Called a cheiloplasty, the surgical repair of a cleft lip involves reconstructing the upper lip and closing the connective tissue, making the upper lip a solid structure and restoring looks and function.
In many cases, the cleft lip also affects how the nose looks and functions. It can impact:
- Nose shape
- Nasal symmetry
- Nostril symmetry
- Angle of the nose
- Distance between the nose and lip
- Nasal Airflow
Our craniofacial surgeons fit the child with a customized nasoalveolar molding (NAM) device before their cleft lip procedure. Placed 1-2 weeks after birth, these dental devices gradually pull the palate and lip closer together to give children optimal surgical outcomes. While attention of a NAM is directed at improving the palate and lip, it can also have a powerful impact on improving the nasal shape prior to surgery.
Combining Cleft Lip Surgery With Cleft Nasal Repair
Our practice has worked diligently to minimize the total number of surgeries that a cleft child requires, and to remain thoughtful about intervening at the optimal time in a child’s life. Each child with the condition needs an individualized surgical approach; cleft lip surgery can often be combined with a cleft nasal repair. A cleft nasal repair is the procedure done at the time of the cleft lip repair to improve the nasal shape, whereas a cleft rhinoplasty is performed in the late teenage or adult years to complete the nasal balance if needed).
Depending on the severity of the case, our craniofacial surgeons can not only repair the upper lip, but also realign nasal elements to a more normal configuration. In some cases, surgeons use stints and sutures to help hold the nasal structure in place or to straighten (or create) the columella, the tissue that separates the child’s nostrils.
This combined procedure significantly improves the child’s breathing and repairs upper lip shape, nasal shape and overall symmetry. In best-case scenarios, the combined cleft nasal repair and cheiloplasty give the child’s lip and nose the ability to grow and function normally, and often eliminate the need for future surgical interventions. This is not always the case, though, and some children need future procedures as their facial structures grow.
Contact Our Premier Craniofacial Surgeons
If your child has a cleft lip and is in need of surgical intervention, contact the board-certified and fellowship-trained surgeons at Wellspring Craniofacial Group, where surgery combinations make life easier for both you and your child. Contact our office at (512) 600-2888 today to book your initial consultation and be one step closer to repairing your child’s cleft lip completely. We understand what you’re going through and can provide the support you need.