How Does a Cleft Lip or Palate Impact Your Child’s Teeth?

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Any parent would agree on the importance of good dental health for their child. While all children need to have good oral health, it becomes even more crucial for children who have a cleft lip or palate as they can be susceptible to tooth decay and other dental problems. So it becomes important for the parents to inculcate healthy dental habits early on in the child’s life like brushing twice a day and using superior dental products like Oral B. But before we get into how a cleft palate can impact a child’s teeth, let us first understand what exactly it is.

What is a cleft?1

A Cleft palate or lip is an opening or split in the upper lip or the roof of the mouth, or both together. Cleft lip and palate occur when the child’s facial structures which are still developing in the womb do not close completely. It is one of the most common birth defects, and it can be caused due to genetic factors or syndromes as well. In most children, a cleft can be corrected with the help of a series of surgeries, restoring normal functionality and appearance with minimal scarring.

What are the symptoms of a cleft?

If there is a split or cleft in the lip or palate, it can be immediately identified at birth. These are some of the signs you can look out for:

  • A split in the roof or palate of the mouth that does not affect facial appearance

  • A split in the lip that looks like a small notch in the lip, or extends from the lip through the upper gum and palate, and into the bottom of the nose

  • A split in the palate or lip that affects one or both sides of the face

There are different types of cleft palate you should be aware of. Commonly it occurs on the roof of the mouth which is noticeable. But sometimes, less commonly, a cleft can occur in the muscles of the soft palate or submucous cleft palate which are covered by the mouth’s lining. Since this cleft is located in the back of the mouth it may not be noticed at birth and therefore may go undiagnosed till later on when the signs start to develop. In case a child has a submucous cleft palate, look out for these signs and symptoms:

  • Difficulty swallowing; liquids and foods can come out of the nose

  • Difficulty with feedings

  • Nasal voice while speaking

  • Chronic ear infections

How does a cleft impact a child’s oral health?

Several complications can arise when a child is born with a cleft lip, with or without a cleft palate. Here are some of the difficulties that can accompany a cleft:

  1. Dental problems:

    Tooth development may be affected in cases where the cleft extends through the upper gum. This can hamper the child’s overall dental health in the long run, because it can lead to an increase in plaque build-up and lead to faster tooth decay.

  2. Difficulties with speech:

    The palate or roof of the mouth is utilised in forming sounds; so having a cleft palate can deter the development of normal speech, and make it sound too nasal.

  3. Feeding difficulties:

    When the child born with cleft palate is in infancy, the most immediate concern is breastfeeding. Having a cleft palate can make sucking difficult for the baby.

Aside from oral difficulties, a child born with a cleft palate is also at risk of developing middle ear fluid and hearing loss. Apart from physical issues, a cleft palate baby may also face emotional and behavioural problems later on due to intensive surgical procedures and social problems due to differences in appearance.

What causes cleft lip and palate?

Many factors can increase the risk of a baby developing a cleft lip and palate. Here are some of the possible causes of cleft lip and palate:

  • Genetic history:

    Parents who have a family history of cleft lip or palate have a higher chance of passing it on to their offspring.

  • Factors during pregnancy:

    There are some factors during pregnancy that can lead to cleft palate or lip in a child, such as:

    • Pregnant women who are exposed to cigarette smoke, alcohol, or certain medications are more likely to have a child with a birth deformity such as cleft palate or lip.

    • Women who are diagnosed with diabetes before pregnancy have an increased risk of having a child with cleft lip or palate.

    • Some evidence has shown that being overweight at the time of pregnancy can increase the risk of a cleft.

    It has been observed that males are more likely to have a cleft lip with or without a cleft palate, while females are more likely to have a cleft palate without a cleft lip.

Dental care for a cleft2

As a parent, there are a few things you can do if a child is born with a cleft lip and palate. Here are some cleft palate treatment measures that the doctor may recommend:

  1. Preventative dental care:

    The child may need preventative dental care which includes teeth cleanings and dental visits. It is crucial to have a good oral care routine in place, and important for the parent to supervise brushing twice a day for two minutes each. If it is a baby, then as soon as the first tooth appears, the parent must clean their teeth with a small, soft toothbrush.

    As the child grows older, go for superior quality dental tools such as Oral-B ProHealth GumCare Manual Toothbrush to make sure the teeth are cleaned efficiently daily. It has been clinically proven to remove more plaque than a regular manual toothbrush with its CrissCross bristles, which are angled at 16 degree to attack plaque from the right angle. It also improves gum health significantly and helps clean the hard-to-reach places with power tip bristles.

  2. Orthodontic dental care:

    Some orthodontic dental care may also be required, which means that the look, function, and strength of the child’s bite has to be taken care of. This type of treatment has two stages or phases - the first usually begins around the age of six, when the molars erupt, and the second begins later at the time when all the permanent teeth have appeared.

  3. Prosthodontic dental care:

    The child may need prosthetic substitutes to fill in for the missing parts of the jaw or mouth. Prosthetics such as speech bulbs and palatal lifts may be used, which are removable. Sometimes the prosthetics may be permanent, for eg. crowns or bridges that replace or restore missing teeth. However, not all children with a cleft may require prosthodontic care.

  4. In most cases, a cleft lip or palate can be corrected. It is important to take guidance from a dental professional for a complete treatment plan. Meanwhile, make sure that the child’s teeth and oral health are well-taken care of - use Oral-B toothbrushes to maintain good oral health.

    Read more about how to brush your teeth and other oral care tips