Unilateral Cleft Lip: Best Oral Care Practices

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), a cleft lip occurs in about 4,400 U.S. births every year, which includes unilateral cleft lips – when the lip doesn't completely form on one side of the mouth. And the American Dental Association warns that children with unilateral cleft lip are at risk for hearing, speech, ear and teeth problems throughout their development. Dentists commonly recommend a surgery to treat the condition for children between 12 to 18 months, and additional surgeries may be required to help improve both a child's health and appearance. Here are some best practices to help parents maintain good oral health for their child with cleft lip.

Prevent Tooth Decay

Unfortunately, it's more likely for children with a cleft lip to experience tooth decay, per the Cleft Palate Foundation. As explained, the teeth closest to the cleft – typically the maxillary incisors – can have defective enamel, which expedites caries. This makes it all the more important to limit refined sugar for children with a unilateral cleft lip to help avoid the increased risk of decay. In a child's first year, it's important to wipe baby teeth after bottle feedings to cut down on sugar and plaque buildup and to fill bedtime bottles with water instead of milk or juice. For older children, it's important parents make sure that their children brush and floss the area properly and consistently.

Find a Qualified Pediatric Dentist

Parents should make an appointment with a pediatric dentist prior to a child's first tooth eruption. Children with a cleft lip can have additional orthodontic problems, like an overbite or crowding and missing or sideways teeth. It's typical for a dentist to refer a child with a unilateral cleft lip to an orthodontist to assess jaw and bone growth and to determine the best course of treatment to straighten and treat teeth.

Work with Many Dentists

It can be a challenge to discover a child needs a number of procedures to treat cosmetic and dental issues. But it's customary for a pediatric dentist to work alongside a team of specialists to treat the teeth and affected areas. A team may include a pediatric dentist, orthodontist, prosthodontist and oral surgeon. While an orthodontist's and pediatric dentist's scope of work sounds familiar, a prosthodontist and oral surgeon's specialties are lesser known. According to the Pacific Coast Society of Prosthodontists, a prosthodontist is a dentist who specializes in replacing or restoring teeth, while oral surgeons can extract teeth, perform corrective surgery, place dental implants and help to detect related oral diseases, such as cancer.

Parents need to conference with a pediatric dentist to clearly determine a treatment plan. Staying on the plan suggested in the treatment plan remains vital to a child's good oral health according to the CDC. So, knowing in advance that multiple surgeries, procedures and visits to different specialists may be in store allows parents to better budget and prepare the child, as well as help improve speech, self-esteem and hearing problems.

Keep Up with Constant Upkeep

Thorough oral care is always important. But after surgeries and any intensive procedures, make sure to follow the pediatric dentist's and specialist's care plans to avoid infection. And to help maintain continued oral health, children should be using a mouthwash made for kids, like the Minions™ Bello™ Bubble Fruit® Mouthwash, which provides an anti-cavity fluoride rinse to build enamel and prevent cavities. Brushing after meals, flossing, using fluoride-based products and avoiding sugary foods are always the best rules of thumb for everyone' dental health.

It's never easy to receive a diagnosis like a cleft lip. But advances in oral care as well as a commitment to staying on top of both a kid's treatment plan and daily care create a good foundation for a healthy, happy and full dental life.

Learn more about cleft lips and palates in the Colgate Oral Care resources.

This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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Cleft lip and palate are birth defects that occur because a baby’s lip or mouth does not form properly during pregnancy. A cleft lip is an upper lip that is split. It is caused by the failure of the tissue of the lip to join. A cleft palate occurs when the tissue that makes up the roof of the mouth does not come together.