Dental Care for Infants with Clefts
If your infant has a cleft palate or cleft lip, a variety of health care professionals are likely to be involved in his or her care. The skills of many different areas are needed to help with the problems that can accompany cleft abnormalities.
One important part of that is dental care. Children with clefts may have special dental problems because of their cleft. Your child may need to be treated by health care providers such as a pediatric dentist, who is trained to care for routine dental needs such as fillings and cleanings, and an orthodontist, who evaluates the position of your child's teeth and coordinates a treatment plan with an oral-maxillofacial surgeon and other specialists.2
A cleft may affect the alveolar ridge (upper gum containing the teeth). As a result, some teeth may be incorrectly shaped, out of correct position, or entirely missing. There may even be extra teeth. The teeth most commonly affected are the upper incisors and cuspid on the side of the cleft.2
To begin planning your child's dental treatment, comprehensive dental records may need to be created. These include impressions of the upper and lower teeth, X-rays, and photographs.2
Special dental appliances (prostheses) may be fitted for some infants with cleft palates to help them eat or to control the shape of the upper jaw. At later ages, obturators (speech appliances) may be used to close palatal openings and improve speech. A prosthodontic specialist generally places these appliances in consultation with other specialists on your child's health care team.2
It's important to note that infants with clefts need the same routine dental care as infants without clefts.2 Parents should wipe their baby's gums with a damp washcloth after each feeding. Begin brushing your child's teeth when the first tooth erupts. Begin flossing when all the baby teeth have erupted, usually by age 2 or 2 1/2.1
1 "Early Childhood Tooth Decay." American Dental Association. http://ada.org/public/topics/decay_childhood_faq.asp. Accessed 2009.
2 "The First Four Years." Cleft Palate Foundation, 2008. http://www.cleftline.org/docs/Booklets/FFY-01.pdf. Accessed 2009.