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© Borgis - New Medicine 1/2001, s. 27-29
Maria Hortis-Dzierzbicka1, Zofia Dudkiewicz2
Cleft lip/palate - the contemporary view of etiology and treatment
1Department of Pediatric and Adolescent Surgery National Research Institute for Mother and Child, Warsaw, Poland
2Center for Craniofacial Disorders
Head: Associate Professor Zofia Dudkiewicz, M.D.
The authors present the state of the art view on etiology of orofacial clefts and on contemporary tendencies in treatment of cleft lip/palate. While discussing clefting etiology, in recent years special attention has been focused on gene/environment interaction. The paper also extensively presents a team approach to the therapeutic management of cleft lip/palate.
Cleft lip and/or palate is not only among the most common defects encountered in humans, but is without doubt the most controversial anomaly, in view of its complex and diversified etiology and the abundance of concepts, especially surgical, associated chiefly with primary closure of the cleft crevice. These proposals mainly deal with surgical methods and timing of the procedure. A universal tendency nowadays is to accelerate the time of primary operation, which is associated with decreasing surgical trauma. More and more often classic operations after Langenbeck, Veau or Wardill-Killer, combined with extensive delamination of the periosteum, are abandoned in favour of such procedures as non-traumatic employment of vomer flaps in cleft palate surgery. The prevailing opinion in world literature is that primary surgery should be completed before the child is one year old, regardless of the accepted management strategy. One-stage or multi-stage procedures are regarded as equivalent. The early primary surgical management aims at providing conditions as good as possible for speech development, and minimally invasive surgery at the same time prevents the formation of severe iatrogenic maxillo occlusive disturbances that result from tissue scarring in very early childhood. In Poland Dudkiewicz and Kobus (2, 4) are among advocates of the early primary repair, although as for as we know kobus has lately changed his mind (personal communication).
The surgical management of orofacial clefts can be divided into the primary and secondary - reconstructive - treatment. The primary repair consists of closing the cleft crevice and has two basic goals. The former, important from the aesthetic viewpoint, is to restore the normal facial appearance as soon as possible. The latter is to close the pathological communication between the oral and nasal cavities, thus reconstructing the structural basis for the normal functions of sucking, swallowing, masticating, breathing, speaking and hearing. In a child with an orofacial cleft, all these functions are grossly disturbed. The basic factor featuring in most of the above disturbances is the inability of a cleft child to produce negative pressure in the oral cavity when it pathologically communicates with the nasal cavity.
With respect to secondary procedures, which are supplmentary in character and include for example the restoration of the alveolar arch, the predominant opinion holds that a bone graft should be implanted into the alveolar process when the child is 8-11 years old, and the root of the permanent canine tooth is 1/2-2/3 of its normal length. Other corrective procedures that have recently become almost the rule include an early correction of the ala nasi. Such procedures, if performed early, seem to prevent severe deformities of the nose which was previously often condemned to further bone rhinoplasties.
Treatment of an orofacial cleft defect requires a multi-specialist approach and is multi-stage, performed over many years. The defect itself is clearly visible on the face, can often be heard when the patients speaks, and the stigma of cleft lip remains even after... even after the best surgical treatment, the effect of such a deformity on the personal and social life of the patient is enormous. The selection of proper surgical, orthodonic, phoniatric and laryngological management, as well as speech rehabilitation at each stage of treatment is therefore of paramount importance.
In view of the fact that the wait for the outcome of treatment is 12-18 years, there is a need to prepare standardized documentation at defined time intervals and at each therapeutic stage. This facilitates a comparison of late results, thus allowing for determination of the degree of success of any given method based on such a late outcome. Even in centres where approximately 200 new cases of cleft lip/palate are treated annually, in view of the diveristy of the defects at a given time there are around 15-20 children with the same type of clefting. Often these patients have been operated on at different periods and employing diversified methods, which hinders the selection of statistically comparable groups. Therefore, a concept has emerged aimed at reducing the number of cleft li/palate centres and establishing standard, multispecialist records with data collected at the same periods of the child´s life. The concept emphasizes the necessity for comparative studies, not only of an interinstitutional character (these are often impossible to undertake for the above-mentioned reasons), but also carried out in various centres, both national and foreign.
Cleft lip and/or palate accounts for approximately 65% of all congenital developmental craniofacial anomalies, which places the defect in the leading position with respect to incidence among such malformations. The anomaly develops as a consequence of failed midline fusion between the twin facial processes in early fetal life. In the case of the primary palate, i.e. the lip and alveolar process extending to the incisive foramen, such a fusion occurs between 6 and 8 weeks of gestation, while in the case of the secondary palate (the hard and soft palate) it occurs between 8 and 12 weeks of gestation.
Depending on the site where such a failed or incomplete fusion of facial processes occurs, the patient presents with cleft lip, lip and alveolar process unilateral or bilateral cleft lip, alveolar process and palate or isolated cleft palate. The extent of the defect may be diversified, starting from subclinical forms characterized by only a tiny notch in the cleft lip, through to complete clefting. The gravest problems are posed by a submucosal cleft soft palate, as the anomaly is easy to overlook immediately after birth. It is often diagnosed only in later life, when it is manifested as a speech defect characterized by hypernasality.
The incidence of orofacial cleft anomalies is 1.6-2/1000 live births. Approximately 800 affected children are born in Poland every year. There are sex-linked differences in cleft lip/palate incidence. Cleft lip or cleft lip and palate are more predominant in boys, while isolated cleft lip occurs more frequently in girls (3).

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New Medicine 1/2001
Strona internetowa czasopisma New Medicine