A cleft palate is an opening or split in the roof of the mouth. It occurs when the tissue doesn't fuse together during development in the womb. A cleft palate may include a split in the upper lip, which is known as a cleft lip. It is possible to have an isolated cleft palate or both a cleft palate and lip.
Cleft palate risk factors include both genetic and environmental influences. These may include family history, race (most common in Indian and Asian backgrounds), gender (cleft palate more common in girls), certain medications during pregnancy, chemical or drug exposures during pregnancy, viruses and genetic factors. The risks of having a child with a cleft palate increase when other family members have been born with clefts.
Usually, a cleft palate is immediately identifiable at birth. It may appear as a split in the roof of the mouth that affects one or both sides of the face or as a split in the roof of the mouth that doesn’t affect the appearance of the face. A less common type of cleft palate is called submucous cleft palate. With this disorder, a split occurs only in the muscles of the soft palate, which are at the back of the mouth and covered by the lining of the mouth. This type of cleft may go unnoticed at birth. Symptoms of a submucous cleft palate may include difficulty with feedings, difficulty swallowing, nasal speaking voice, and chronic ear infections.
The most common form of treatment for a cleft palate is surgery to correct the split, improve the child’s ability to speak, eat, and hear, as well as improve their facial appearance. The initial surgery to close a cleft palate is typically done by the age of 12 months. Some followup surgeries, which occur between the ages of 2 and late teens, may be required after the initial surgery. Although many children born with clefts require dental and orthodontic care or other surgeries later, they typically lead a normal life after treatment.
Description Last Updated: Jul 13, 2020