The 2-flap palatoplasty technique plus intravelar veloplasty is actually the approach most commonly used in the United States for cleft palate repair.1 This method, described more than 45 years ago by Bardach,2 is a one-time surgery that enables closure under minimal tension, lowering rates of subsequent fistula development. However, its primary disadvantage is potential detriment to maxillary growth (due to extent of dissection on both sides of the cleft and raw lateral surfaces), even though functional velar competence may be achieved, conferring proper resonance during speech and preventing nasal regurgitation of food or liquids.
Various studies have described the detrimental impact on palatal growth of early 1-stage cleft palate surgery via 2-flap palatoplasty.3–5 Subsequently, strategies such as the 2-stage palatoplasty have been used to minimize such undesirable outcomes, despite the higher rates of fistula development and negative speech outcomes documented for these alternatives by some investigators.6–8 Then again, the multicenter, controlled SCANDCLEFT clinical trial recently reported similar results for 1- and 2-stage techniques9; recently published findings of a systematic literature review indicate that scientific evidence for the superiority of a 2-stage technique (vomer flap) over a palatal flap (1-stage repair) remains inconclusive as far as impact on maxillary growth.10
To reduce the extent of reparative palatal surgery and related unwanted effects, we are using a surgical technique that involves just one mucoperiosteal flap (ie, 1-flap method) raised from the noncleft side. We should clarify that this approach differs from a 2-flap technique relative to hard palate dissection only. Soft palate surgical treatment is identical for both techniques. Furthermore, our procedure is not new, having recently been described as part of a related surgery (combining a buccal fat pad flap) in a small series of 3 patients.11 Nevertheless, the merit of this combination was not proven through formal evaluation, and the cleft side was used for palatal flap elevation.
In a case report, Gillet and Clarke12 described a hybrid technique incorporating a posterior-based flap (on cleft side) and a von Langenbeck bipedicled flap (on noncleft side). Another publication has detailed the use of one flap raised from noncleft side as a modification of the von Langenbeck technique (bipedicled flap), but this method also relies on surgical incisions at the cleft side of palate.13
This particular study is a long-term undertaking, encompassing a large series (N = 240) of cleft palate repairs performed by a single surgeon (P.R.-P.). Reported herein is the first in a 3-phase investigation examining the utility of our technique for unilateral cleft palate repair. Forthcoming reports will focus on assessing maxillary growth at 5 and 18 years.
MATERIALS AND METHODS
For this retrospective and simple-blinded study of patients diagnosed with unilateral cleft palate, subjects were stratified by reparative surgical approach (2-flap and 1-flap techniques). All data accrued between years 2007 and 2012 (Table 1). Overall, 373 patients underwent corrective surgery (2-flap technique, 197; 1-flap method, 176), with 2 groups (120 each) that qualified by completing required postoperative evaluation.
All patients were diagnosed with unilateral cleft palate, all were operated upon at 12 months of age, and all surgeries were done by the same plastic surgeon (P.R.-P.). The study protocol was approved by our Ethical Committee. Parents of each patient were informed of the nature of techniques used and granted signed consent.
Patients of groups A (2-flap procedure) and B (1-flap procedure) underwent palatoplasty plus Sommerlad intravelar veloplasty.14 Data collected included physical examination findings of a physician checking for fistulas, and evaluations of velopharyngeal function (especially moderate or severe postoperative hypernasality), done according to Henningsson et al15 and John et al16 by a single speech therapist. Outcomes of surgeries were recorded as simple blinded assessments.
Palatal fistula, velopharyngeal insufficiency (VPI), and postoperative hemorrhage served as measures of surgical outcomes.
Palatal fistula was defined as communication (symptomatic or not) between nose and oral cavity in hard or soft palate after primary palatoplasty, excluding nasoalveolar (anterior) fistulas (types VI and VII of the Pittsburgh classification system). This outcome was evaluated at 2 years old.
Of note, alveolar clefts are not closed primarily in our program. Velopharyngeal insufficiency was defined as inability of velopharyngeal sphincter to produce normal speech, which for practical purposes was considered nasal escape of air with increased resonance during speech (hypernasality). Nasal resonance was assessed perceptually, using high vowels in single words and connected speech to rate hypernasality. This postsurgical outcome was evaluated before 5 years of age.
Postoperative hemorrhage was defined as significant postsurgical bleeding emanating from wound sites and requiring surgical revision. All instances were gauged according to cleft severity (based on palatal index) as follows: mild (<0.2), moderate (0.2–0.4), and severe (>0.4).17 Palatal index is the proportion between width of cleft (cleft severity) and the sum of both palatal segment widths (tissue deficiency) measured at the junction of hard and soft palates.
Surgical Technique: One-flap Palatoplasty
With the patient in supine position and the neck extended, a Dingman mouth gag was applied and incisions were marked with methylene blue (Fig. 1). Local anesthesia, consisting of 2% lidocaine with epinephrine 1:200,000 (0.5 ml/kg), was infiltrated into palatal tissues 5–7 minutes before the start of surgery. As marked, incisions were made with a no. 15 blade.
Unilateral uvuloplasty technique was applied, retaining the larger of the 2 hemi-uvulae (ie, the smaller was excised).18 On the side of retained hemi-uvula, a full-thickness mucosal incision was made along the cleft margin of soft palate and up to the base of this hemi-uvula, preserving uvular muscle. Mucoperiosteal flaps were devised through cautery on noncleft sides. Each incision ran along the edge of palate, over the gingiva and just medial to the line of dental eruption, as in the alveolar extension palatoplasty of Carstens19 (Figs. 2 and 3). A 1-cm lateral extension over soft palate was needed to prevent any tension on midline closure at this level. Minor subperiosteal dissection was also required at cleft side to facilitate midline closure (Fig. 1).
A small (1-cm) incision of anterior gingival mucosa was used to ease surgical closure at anterior-most portions of the cleft (Figs. 1A and 2). In instances of severe unilateral clefting, a small relaxing incision (2 cm) was made on cleft side, in a line between gingival and palatal mucosa (Figs. 3 and 4). Severity of cleft was determined by palatal index.17
The edge of each cleft was cut in continuity with uvular incisions bilaterally, leaving sufficient mucosa of vomer for nasal-side closure. Mucoperiosteal flap elevation started at the anterior-most portion of hemipalate and continued up to palatal pedicle. Thereafter, the neurovascular bundle was mobilized by blunt dissection, with firm but gentle traction to pull and further loosen it from greater palatine foramen. Surgeries concluded with muscle repairs via Sommerlad intravelar veloplasty (Fig. 1B).
At completion, mucosa was carefully closed, using absorbable 5-0 suture for border-to-border edge approximation (Figs. 5–13). All patients of group B underwent conventional 2-flap procedures, as described by Bardach.2
Fisher’s exact test and the 2-proportion Z-test were engaged to compare both surgical methods by defined outcome measures. For statistical significance, an α error ≤0.05 was set. All confidence intervals were expressed at 95%, and the power analysis of the study has been estimated in 80%. Standard software (SPSS v15.0; SPSS, Chicago, Ill.) was used for data analysis.
Patient characteristics (number and type of cleft) are presented in Table 1. The study population was normally distributed. In comparing the 2 methods of unilateral cleft palate repair, no statistically significant difference was demonstrable with respect to development of fistulas (P = 0.801) and moderate or severe postoperative hypernasality (P = 1.000) (Table 2 and Figs. 5–13).
All these fistulas were located at the middle third of the palate in both groups.
Although the absolute number of postoperative bleeding episodes was higher in group A (vs group B), the difference was not statistically significant (P = 0.375) (Table 2).
Using the 2-flap palatoplasty plus intravelar veloplasty muscular repositioning technique, we were able to corroborate outcomes reported by a number of other investigators.20–22
However, there are notable limitations to extensive surgical dissection in both segments of palate (cleft and noncleft side) at an early age, leaving raw lateral surfaces. The original illustration of Bardach shows a surgical closure without raw lateral surfaces, which is not technically feasible with wider clefts (moderate to severe palatal index).17
Herein, we report anatomic and functional outcomes for our 1-flap technique that are similar to those of a conventional 2-flap approach. The 2 methods did not differ significantly in terms of fistula development (P = 0.801) and demonstrable postoperative hypernasality (moderate or severe; P = 1.000). Given that age, gender, surgeon, and type of cleft were similar in both groups studied, it is fair to conclude that all surgical outcomes were directly related to 1- or 2-flap surgical technique (Table 1). Hence, good results are possible using a 1-flap procedure for unilateral cleft palate repair (Figs. 5–13).
Rates of fistula development recorded in our patients were similar to or even lower than those of other publications (0–58%).23–25 Most postoperative fistulas developed in patients with severe clefting (group A, 66.6%; group B, 62.5%) (Table 2), which validates use of the palatal index to establish severity of cleft palate.17,26–28 This method allowed us to examine the relationship between severity of clefting (gauged by palatal index) and surgical outcomes.
Muzaffar et al,29 Rohrich et al,30 Schultz,31 Landheer et al,32 and Yuan et al33 have all reported a direct association between extent of clefting (measured by width of cleft) and fistula rate. In our view, however, palatal index is a better predictor of surgical outcome than width of palatal cleft. In both groups of this study, we saw an increased number of postoperative fistulas in patients with severe unilateral cleft palate (palatal index >0.4), attributable to insufficient mucoperiosteal tissue for defect repair (Table 2).
Our data also demonstrated similar procedural efficacies in achieving anatomic and functional palatal closure, albeit with less surgical dissection necessitated by a 1-flap technique. The potentially negative impact of these procedures on facial growth awaits further study. With respect to instances of postoperative hemorrhage, the increased number of bleeding episodes recorded for group A may be related to the extensive surgical dissection required for a 2-flap technique.
Based on our experience and findings of recent studies, it seems logical that palatal fistula rates might be lower for the 2-flap technique. However, extensive dissection of hard palate is implicit in bilateral mucoperiosteal flap elevation20; as with the use of relaxing incisions, extensive hard palate dissection proportionately disrupts maxillary growth.3–5 Nevertheless, recent studies have yielded similar results in this regard using techniques with limited and extensive hard palate dissection.9,10 In addition, relaxing incisions are not necessarily avoided through use of 2-stage techniques. The latter are needed in repairs of severe clefting. In fact, increased rates of postoperative fistula have been recorded for 2-stage techniques, which frequently entail additional surgical time for fistula repair9,14 (Table 3). Each surgery requiring subperiosteal hard palate dissection is apt to cumulatively affect facial growth. Delayed soft palate closure using a vomer flap requires hard palate dissection to allow for closure of oral mucosa. The area of required hard palate dissection is similar to that needed for a 1-flap method, but this step is performed twice (once at each stage). The delayed hard palate method requires less dissection of hard palate to locate the vomer flap 6 months after the soft palate closure. However, the hard palate cleft is closed in 1 layer (vomer flap), so the fistula rate is increased (Table 3). We use this technique for severe unilateral cleft palate repair, given the high rate of fistula in this setting, regardless of surgical method.
In this study, we observed similar results with respect to development of both palatal fistulas and velopharyngeal insufficiency using a surgical technique with more limited surgical dissection (ie, a 1-flap method) (Table 3). The primary advantage of the 1-flap technique is a limited dissection over the noncleft palatal segment, affording a low rate of palatal fistula for one-time surgery.
Use of a 1-flap technique for unilateral cleft palate repair allowed us to achieve results comparable to those of a 2-flap technique in terms of postoperative fistula development and hypernasal speech. Ultimately, less surgical dissection was required for similar outcomes. This method has yet to be evaluated in patients with bilateral or isolated cleft palates, assessing its impact on palatal growth.
We thank Dr. Paul Rottler, William Schneider, and Engineer Armando Barrientos for their assistance with the article revision and biostatistics.
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© 2015 American Society of Plastic Surgeons
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