Cleft lip and palate is one of the most common birth defects in the US. Although providing care to a child with cleft lip and palate can cause anxiety in parents, one therapy has been found to not only reduce cleft severity in the child but provide psychosocial relief to parents as well.
A recent study described in the article "Caregiver Responses to Nasoalveolar Molding and Early Cleft Care" in The Cleft Palate-Craniofacial Journal discusses how caregivers opting to treat their children with nasoalveolar molding (NAM) responded to the therapy. NAM is a nonsurgical treatment therapy designed to improve future surgical results, reduce the need for future surgeries and diminish scarring. The treatment requires surgical tape, an intraoral molding plate and nasal stents prior to lip surgery, beginning at approximately 1 month of age. The tapes need to be changed daily by the primary caregiver. Weekly or biweekly appliance adjustments by the cleft team orthodontist or pediatric dentist are also performed until approximately 3 to 5 months of age, at which time traditional surgery of the primary palate (lip) is performed.
The NIH-supported study revealed that although caregivers were initially anxious or overwhelmed at the thought of NAM, most experienced substantial benefits as a result of direct participation in their child's cleft treatment. Many caregivers reported a stronger connection with the child, felt more empowered as parents, and found a support network with other NAM participants with which to share experiences.
According to authors Hillary Broder and Lacey Sischo, "Teams across the U.S. have expanded their use of NAM. In fact, one-third of the large cleft teams endorsed by the American Cleft Palate-Craniofacial Association now use NAM with infants having cleft lip and palate."
The positive experiences of caregivers, coupled with possible long-term benefits provided to the children, currently make NAM one of the most desirable methods for reducing the severity of cleft lip and palate. As this was the first prospective multicenter study examining caregiver responses in relation to the therapy, future research is necessary to continue to monitor its effects.