Surgery for Cleft Lip and Palate

This information is useful for children
Why Yale Medicine?
  • Our internationally recognized team of surgeons and other specialists provide top-level quality care for your child while offering the utmost concern and support for your family.
  • We take a "whole team" approach, with input from surgeons, psychologists, radiologists, orthodontists, pediatric dentists, pulmonologists and speech therapists.
  • Our specialists care for your child early on and as they grow, monitoring development in such areas as speech and dental functions.

Cleft lip and cleft palate are birth defects that affect the appearance and function of the lips and mouth, and they are more common than you might guess. Each year more than 7,000 babies are born in the United States with one of these conditions. 

Yale Medicine offers a comprehensive, team-based approach to treating babies born with cleft palate, says Derek Steinbacher, DMD, MD, FACS, director of the Craniofacial Program for Yale Medicine, and associate professor of plastic surgery at Yale School of Medicine. “We fix clefts in infancy for social, aesthetic and functional reasons. The goal is to help the baby eat, drink, nurse—and basically, to grow and thrive.”

A cleft lip looks like a narrow opening or gap in the skin of the upper lip, and may include the base of the nose, the bones of the upper jaw and the upper gums. 

A cleft palate is a split in the roof of the mouth: the hard palate in the front portion, the soft palate in the back, or both.

If a cleft is left untreated, a child may have difficulty eating and speaking. The conditions can also affect the development of other facial features, including the nose, jaw and teeth. Also, children with cleft palate are more prone to fluid buildup in the middle ear. This can cause more ear infections and even lead to hearing loss.