At Shriners Hospitals for Children, the health and safety of our patients, families, volunteers and staff is our top priority. With the evolving situation regarding COVID-19, we are closely monitoring updates from local health departments and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and are actively following their recommendations.

If your child has an upcoming appointment, please contact your local Shriners Hospitals for Children location.

Shriners Children's Ohio family information.

Skip to navigation

Cleft lip and palate

Cleft lip and palate

Facial clefts occur in nearly one out of 600 births in the United States and are the most common birth defects treated by pediatric plastic surgeons. Clefts of the lip and palate are complex conditions, which affect not only the child’s appearance and self-esteem, but also a child’s ability to breathe, speak, hear and eat properly. Because of this, treatment involves the close cooperation of a number of medical and dental specialists.

Cleft lip before and after

Collaborative approach to care

The Commission on Approval of Teams, created by the Cleft Palate Foundation and the American Cleft Palate-Craniofacial Association, has formally approved the Cleft Lip and Palate Team at Shriners Children's Ohio. Our team emphasizes family-centered care. Patients and families are treated as members of the team and are invited to be active participants in decision making and treatment planning. 

Issues related to self-esteem, hearing, speech, learning and appearance are treated in the context of the Cleft Lip and Palate Team at Shriners Children's Ohio. Our goal is to foster and maximize the social, physical and psychological development of our patients.

The child’s appointment with the Cleft Lip and Palate Team lasts all day, with many  professional contacts provided during that time for your child. Families should be prepared to spend the entire day with us for the team appointment. After each team appointment, a multidisciplinary team report will be generated and reviewed by the other health care professionals treating your child.


The plastic surgeon repairs the cleft lip shortly after birth, usually at 2 to 3 months of age. They repair the cleft palate by 12 months of age prior to the child’s first spoken words. Many children with clefts develop hearing problems as a result of chronic ear infections. If left untreated it will create speech and language problems. The audiologists and otolaryngologists assess the child’s ears. At the time of the cleft repairs, tubes may be placed in the child’s ears to help treat the infections and maximize hearing sensitivity. In addition, many infant children may also have their gum repaired with a bone graft, depending on the circumstances, sometime after the lip repair and before the repair of the cleft palate.


Each child’s speech development is routinely assessed by the speech and language pathologist. If treatment is needed, the speech pathologist works with the parent, the child and a local speech pathologist. Sometimes, additional surgery is needed when speech therapy alone does not improve the child’s ability to speak normally.

Surgery involves improving the function of the palate and pharynx (throat) where the air needed for sound is directed. Before the child begins school, any significant residual cleft deformities involving the lip and nose are surgically corrected to help minimize the psychological effects of the cleft deformity. Pediatric dental and orthodontic services begin to play a more important role with the development of teeth during the later years of childhood. Surgery to restore the residual cleft in the dental arch is frequently done at this age.


While nearly all cleft children will need braces (orthodontia), a smaller number of children will need orthognatic (jaw) surgery. In these children, the growth of the upper jaw remains behind the lower jaw and the face develops a sunken appearance as the child grows into adolescence. The surgery involves repositioning the jaws to improve the child’s bite and appearance. The plastic surgeon carefully plans the surgery with the dental specialists (dentist, orthodontist and prosthodontist) to achieve the best results. Once the facial bones are in correct relationship to each other, the final nose and lip surgery are completed.


  • No single surgery can correct all of your child’s medical conditions.
  • Surgical reconstruction of the lip, nose, gum and palate must be timed with the child’s development.
  • The need for further correction is dependent upon how your child’s face develops. Over time, more surgeries may be needed to modify the changes that occur with growth.
  • How a scar heals depends on a number of factors:
    • Severity of the facial cleft
    • Type of surgery involved with the repair
    • Care provided after the surgery
    • Ability to heal
    • Perfect symmetry is not possible to obtain and it is important to remember that no individual has exact mirror image symmetry.
    • Children will need dental and orthodontic care, as well as speech therapy. Each of the specialties play an more important role during different periods of the child’s growth.
    • Children with clefts will need to be followed from infancy to adolescence