Cleft palate is a common birth defect causing developmental abnormalities in infants. The condition ranges from mild to severe, and if left untreated, can severely affect a child’s ability to eat, drink, and talk. Cleft palate is often accompanied by missing teeth, in which case the services of a prosthodontist might be necessary later in life.
What is a Cleft Palate?
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), it was recently estimated that, each year in the United States, about 2,650 babies are born with a cleft palate and 4,440 babies are born with a cleft lip with or without a cleft palate. Isolated orofacial clefts, or clefts that occur with no other major birth defects, are one of the most common types of birth defects in the United States. Depending on the cleft type, the rate of isolated orofacial clefts can vary from 50% to 80%.
This birth defect occurs when the tissues on either side of the lip and the roof of the mouth fail to fuse properly, leaving a gap. The gap can be local to the mouth or can spread throughout the face, damaging facial structure and effecting soft tissues in the back of the mouth or cartilage in the nose. The Mayo Clinic identifies common developments of a cleft palate:
•A split in the lip and roof of the mouth (palate) that can affect one or both sides of the face
•A split in the lip that can appear as only a small notch in the lip or can extend from the lip through the upper gum and palate into the bottom of the nose
•A split in the roof of the mouth (palate) that doesn’t affect the appearance of the face
Researchers agree that cleft palates are often the result of a combination of environmental and genetic factors:
Genes inherited from the parents. Either the mother or the father can pass on genes that cause clefting, either as an isolated defect or as part of a syndrome that includes clefting as one of its signs. In some cases, babies inherit a gene that makes them more likely to develop a cleft, and then an environmental trigger actually causes the cleft to occur.
Exposure to certain substances during pregnancy. Cleft lip and cleft palate may be more likely to occur in pregnant women who smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol and take certain medications.
Surgical intervention is required so that the infant can develop normally without compromising health.
Once surgery is completed, children develop normally such as other adults with the exception of a scar where the surgery was performed. However, children with cleft palates often need teeth correction or orthodontics to secure their teeth.
How a Prosthodontist Can Help
Missing teeth is a common side-effect of having a cleft palate. In some children, the alveolar ridge, where teeth develop in the gums, is affected. If teeth are improperly formed, or absent, a prosthodontist can diagnose and correct these problems.
A prosthodontist is a specialty dentist that works with artificial teeth. If teeth are missing, a prosthodontist can provide replacements such as bridges, dentures, or even dental implants. A prosthodontist can correct teeth and mouth abnormalities caused by a cleft palate.