Craniofacial orthodontics is a sub-specialty that focuses on the treatment of patients who have birth defects such as cleft lip and palate. The orthodontist will work with a team composed 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 available tissue does not join properly. Although the defect occurs in early fetal development, in most cases the cause is unknown. However, there appears to be a link to genetics and maternal environmental exposures during pregnancy.
The treatment for cleft lip and palate is most likely surgery. This is where your craniofacial orthodontist and the team of specialists come in. Depending on the severity of the case, more than one surgery may be necessary. For children, surgery usually takes place between three and six months of age.