Skip to main content

Delivering Hope for Children Who Have Cleft Lip and Palate

Cheryl Anderson-Cermin, D.D.S., discovered her future career path as a children’s orthodontist during a dental residency at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “I saw so many children who had serious craniofacial issues, especially cleft lip and palate,” she says of the residency through Harvard School of Dental Medicine. “I wanted to help families realize their child’s potential to be a healthy, typical kid.”

Supporting Families From Birth to Adolescence

Cleft lip orthodontist Cheryl Anderson-Cermin treats 1-week old Emma.The strong bond Anderson-Cermin develops with families begins early—often, before a baby is born. She, along with the Gillette craniofacial team, guide families through their child’s future treatment plan.

Treatment often begins with fitting babies like Emma, pictured at left, for an OrthoCleft® retainer at just 1 week old. Anderson-Cermin adjusts the retainer weekly until the baby is ready for initial cleft repair surgery. By bringing an infant’s lips and gums closer together, the retainer contributes to optimal surgical outcome.

“Our families make a big commitment,” says Anderson-Cermin, whose patients travel from throughout Minnesota for the frequent appointments. “My role is to guide and encourage them every step of the way.”

Helping Patients in the U.S. and Beyond

Anderson-Cermin ran the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School’s cleft orthodontic program for 13 years before joining Gillette in 2002. Upon her arrival in Minnesota, her experiences prompted her to refine and improve upon the design of a presurgical orthodontic appliance that prepares babies for their initial cleft repair surgery. The resulting device—named the OrthoCleft® retainer—has since been used throughout the U.S. tDr. Anderson-Cermin fits 1-week old Emma with a presurgical orthotic appliance.o enhance the care of babies who have cleft lip and palate.

The device has made an impact internationally, as well. For the past 10 years, Anderson-Cermin has traveled the world helping parents and teaching local providers how to care for infants born with cleft lip and palate. “I know I save lives,” she says of this work.

An OrthoCleft® retainer is similar to the plastic retainers that some teenagers wear as part of getting their teeth straightened. However, the OrthoCleft® retainer has adjustable segments that extend into a baby’s nose to help shape the nostrils so they’ll be more symmetric. A custom plastic part fits into the baby’s mouth and is held in place using denture adhesive. When the OrthoCleft® retainer is in the baby’s mouth, it fills the gaps so babies can close their mouths around the nipple of a bottle, and feed more easily.

“The retainer, along with a bit of tape on the upper lip, works to help minimize the cleft from a social perspective,” adds Anderson-Cermin. “That makes it easier for families to bond with their newborn and take their baby out in public.”

Driven By Passion for Helping Patients

As one of the region’s only cleft palate orthodontists,  Anderson-Cermin says she’s honored to help children and families navigate their medical journey—and to make it as positive an experience as possible. “It’s wonderful to see my patients years later,” she says. “At a conversational distance, you can’t even tell they had a cleft. It’s a privilege to play a role in their lives.”