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Cleft Lip & Palate Program

Loyola’s Cleft Lip & Palate Program offers an experienced team of physicians, surgeons and medical staff to correct not only cleft lip and palate, but also ear, nose and throat problems often associated with this condition.

About 1 in 600 babies in the United States are born with a cleft lip and/or cleft palate, according to the Cleft Palate Foundation. The defect can range from a small notch in the lip to a groove that runs into the roof of the mouth. The defect also can occur in combination with other head and facial abnormalities. Children with cleft lip and/or palate often require about five surgeries by age 18, plus extensive dental and orthodontic work. The care can be quite complex, which is why here at Loyola we offer a multidisciplinary approach to correcting this condition. Your team will include more than a dozen doctors as well as several psychologists, social workers, nurses, genetic counselors, speech pathologists and audiologists.

The problems with cleft lip and palate go beyond appearance. Patients with this condition also can suffer from chronic ear infections, airway obstructions, sleep apnea, speech disorders, ear disease, hearing loss and inflammation of the sinuses and inner lining of the nose. Nasal obstructions can cause obstructive sleep apnea and sinus infections. And infants who cannot breathe through the nose often need surgery so that they can feed and gain weight.

A 2009 study found that 31 percent of preschoolers with cleft lip and/or cleft palate have obstructive sleep apnea, which is about five times greater than the rate for preschoolers in general.

A cleft palate can leave a patient prone to chronic ear infections. Normally the Eustachian tube drains fluid from the middle ear to the back of the nose, which prevents the growth of bacteria and viruses that can lead to infections. In cleft palate patients, the muscles that open the tube often don’t work properly and about 90 percent of patients will require medical tubes to drain the fluid.


Office-based therapies

At the first office visit, you will likely meet with an otolaryngologist, audiologist, speech pathologist, geneticist and dentist.

For patients with airway difficulties, speech problems or swallowing disorders, a flexible nasal endoscopy or laryngoscopy may be offered in the office. This allows the otolaryngologist to evaluate the palate closure, vocal folds and other important anatomical structures.

Patients may need one or more of the following procedures:

  • Cleft lip and nasal repair
  • Cleft palate repair
  • Laryngoscopy
  • Bronchoscopy
  • Adenoidectomy
  • Tonsillectomy
  • Placement of ear tubes (myringotomy and tympanostomy)
  • Pharyngoplasty (a surgery to improve hypernasal speech)
  • Septoplasty
  • Rhinoplasty