Potential Risks & Complications

All surgical procedures carry some uncertainty and risk. When surgery is performed by a qualified plastic surgeon with experience in cleft lip and cleft palate plastic surgery, the results can be quite positive. Nevertheless, as with any operation, there are risks associated with surgery and specific complications associated with this procedure.

In cleft lip surgery, the most common problem is asymmetry, when one side of the mouth and nose does not match the other side. The goal of cleft lip surgery is to close the separation in the child’s upper lip, creating a normal look with normal function. We can add to that goal the creation of a balanced and symmetric nostril. Incisions and scars are necessary to accomplish these goals. We attempt to keep scars to a minimum and to place them in locations where they will be least apparent.

In cleft palate surgery, the goal is to close the palate so the child can eat and learn to speak properly. The soft palate is the mobile, functional part of the palate that works in coordination with the posterior pharynx to regulate speech sounds. It is frequently closed during infancy prior to the closure of the hard palate. Separation of the palate repair can occur secondary to feeding trauma, infection, or surgical tension on the repair. These occurrences will necessitate secondary surgery. Even in the presence of a completely successful anatomic closure of the palate, speech development may be abnormal and necessitate secondary surgery (in around 10% of patients).