Craniofacial orthodontics is a sub-specialty of orthodontics that focuses on the treatment of patients with birth defects such as cleft lip and palate. The orthodontist will work with a team comprised of speech pathologists, oral surgeons, and craniofacial plastic surgeons in planning treatment to correct cleft lip and palate, as well as other jaw and face abnormalities. As a member of a craniofacial team, a craniofacial orthodontist evaluates tooth and jaw development and growth. He or she takes care of the non-surgical treatment of the position of the jaws and is also responsible for the pre- and post-operative treatment of jaw surgery, monitoring growth by means of X-rays and models.
Cleft lip and cleft palate are facial malformations in which the parts of the face that form the upper lip and mouth remain split, instead of sealing together before birth. Similar splits can occur in the roof of the mouth, or palate. Clefting results when there is not enough tissue in the mouth or lip area, and the tissue that is available does not join properly. While the defect occurs in early fetal development, in most cases, the cause is unknown. However, there appears to be a link with genetics and maternal environmental exposures during pregnancy.
While there are certainly aesthetic considerations associated with cleft lip and palate, having this birth defect can affect people in many more serious ways.
The treatment for cleft lip and palate is most likely surgery, and this is where your craniofacial orthodontist and team of specialists come in. Depending on the severity of the case, more than one surgery may be necessary. In children, surgery usually takes place between three and six months of age.