Distraction osteogenesis may help lengthen the maxilla bone in some patients with cleft lip and other palate deformities, new research suggests.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta estimates that 2,651 babies in the United States are born with a cleft palate each year and 4,437 babies are born with a cleft lip with or without a cleft palate.

The maxilla is known to regress following standard jaw advancement procedures, but the new study, which appears in the March issue of The Journal of Craniofacial Surgery, shows that when hardware is placed to gradually “stretch” bone in the desired direction, the maxilla bone grows by about 6.4 millimeters.

While gains seen with distraction osteogenesis did regress by 7.5% during follow-up, this is significantly less than the 50% or greater regression seen after standard surgical approaches, the German researchers report. In the study, distraction osteogenesis was used in seven adolescent to young adult patients with cleft lip, palate deformities, and maxillary hypoplasia. Complications included infection and loosening of the hardware.

Study authors note that the procedure may be ideal for upper jaw bones that need more than 12 millimeters of lengthening.