Friday, February 23, 2018

Cleft Palate Isn't So Scary

When I was pregnant with my youngest son, we were told he would have a few “issues” when he was born. Clubfoot which was a fairly easy fix and cleft palate which was also supposed to be something common that could be repaired over time. We were referred to a cleft palate clinic nearby and started appointments before he was born. This was a great help considering we didn’t have a baby with cleft palate and we didn’t know anyone who went through the same thing.

Of course, we had a million questions and everyone at the cleft palate clinic was extremely helpful, very friendly and optimistic! We spoke with the different specialists they have available for patients and learned a great deal about cleft and what to expect. From speech therapists to hearing specialists to dentists, we started to understand what we were dealing with. (It certainly isn’t as scary as it may seem!)

Our son was born the day before Mother’s Day in 2010 in an ambulance. I must have waited a little too long to call the hospital because a minute after I hung up, my water broke! It ended up he was born just a few miles away from home, in an ambulance and he was healthy as can be! I couldn’t have asked for an easier birth or nicer “doctors and nurses”. A young EMT said, “Um, he’s very healthy and adorable but, he does seem to have something wrong with his lip!” I explained that I was already aware of the cleft and they seemed relieved. This was their first childbirth so they were just ecstatic he was OK.

When we got to the hospital, our family doctor met with us after Deegan was looked over and said, “You know, he doesn’t even have cleft palate. He has cleft lip.” Shortly after this, a cleft palate specialist came to visit and he was just delighted by Deegan’s big dimples and calm demeanor. He discussed the surgeries he would need and gave me information on his appointment at the cleft palate clinic. Everything went smoothly! It was a little hard to get him to eat at first but we eventually figured this out too. (They do make special bottles for cleft babies so there is no need to be alarmed!)

Deegan after his surgery and stitches.

A few months after his cleft surgery!

Deegan is 7 now and has had his surgeries for his club foot and cleft lip and is just left with a little scar and no cupid’s bow. His speech is fine, he does sometimes ask about why his nose is a little different than his brothers or sisters and he recently noticed that he has a slightly different upper lip than his siblings. This makes me sad and we try to focus on keeping his self esteem and confidence up and often! He seems to understand what happened. He actually seems to be very proud of himself for getting through surgeries and overcoming everything and he should be! Most recently, however, we are seeing the effects that his cleft lip has had on his teeth.

Children and even adults who were born with cleft palate or cleft lip can run into a lot of problems with their teeth. It is very important to find a good dentist who has experience with cleft palate because these children do require special care. Some cleft palate clinics will have a dental team on hand but if you don’t have a clinic nearby, finding a trustworthy dentist with experience could be a chore.

They do suggest to make an appointment with a dentist like Karl Jobst Grove OK before any teeth come in. This way, they can start to evaluate what may be needed in the near future. The amount of dental care depends on the severity of the cleft palate or cleft lip. Some may not be as noticeable until after their first teeth appear. From what we are discovering, some may only start after the baby teeth start to come out and the adult teeth start to come in. Whatever your baby might need, do not be alarmed! With proper dental care and treatment, babies with cleft palate and cleft lip will be just fine and can look perfectly fine too. Just like with everything, you might just need a little extra work to get there.

Deegan’s baby teeth came in OK. There are a few that never came in. However, after transferring to our family dentist and he had X-rays, they noted that all but a couple of his adult teeth would come in just fine. So far they have been with the exception of the exact spot where his cleft lip was. We are in the process of moving back to the clinic to hopefully schedule his treatments and surgeries in the future.

It is very important to take very good care of your children’s teeth at home, whether they were born with cleft or not. Brush 2 times 2 times per day! When they are a little older, mouthwash and floss are also extremely important! Our rule is; brush after breakfast and before bed and use mouthwash and floss! There are so many options and flavors to make brushing your teeth fun! One of our favorites is the mouthwash that shows the little particles in the sink so you can see that it’s working. We also have our favorite brands of toothpaste and each kid has their own favorite flavors. (Deegan loves orange and strawberry flavors the most.) Toothpaste with fluoride is especially helpful for maintaining healthy, strong teeth. Our town does not have fluoride in our water so we also opt for multivitamins with fluoride.

Children who were born with cleft lip or cleft palate will be at greater risk for cavities. You can thank weaker enamel and less effective saliva for this. This is something we struggle with and something I’m hoping will be easier for others after more studies are done. It was recently discovered that children born with cleft lip or cleft palate also have abnormal development in salivary gland ducts and they can not properly pump the buffering liquid and protective immune compounds into their mouths.

Saliva is crucial to a healthy mouth. Saliva contains the essential immune compounds that fight tooth decay. A few years ago when Deegan’s baby teeth started to come in, we noticed that one tiny tooth that was located directly where his lip was affected, wasn’t altogether there. We mentioned this to our dentist but he said that with proper brushing he should be fine. When that baby tooth came out we expected to see another tooth shortly after but, it never showed up. There was also a tooth that seemed to be a cavity as soon as it came in. I was pleased to read about their new findings and that they will be continuing research because this could end up opening new doors for both children and adults who struggle with tooth decay, cavities, or any other dental issues.

If you are looking into a career as a dentist or a dental hygienist, please check into Karl Jobst! Maybe you could end up helping to further research on salivary glands that would benefit children and adults born with cleft palate or cleft lip. Not only would this help ease the financial burden on families of these kids, it will help their smiles become bigger and brighter!


  1. It is good to take a moment to read such an article.

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