A cleft palate is a birth defect that affects about one in every 1,700 babies born in the United States. It occurs when the tissue that makes up the palate of a developing fetus does not completely join together, resulting in an opening in the roof of the mouth. A cleft palate can occur on its own or along with a cleft lip, which is when there is a slit-like opening in the upper lip due to the tissues making up the lips of a developing fetus not fusing together during pregnancy. If left untreated, a cleft palate can cause issues with eating, speaking, and hearing, along with ear infections and dental problems. Luckily, cleft palates can be repaired with surgery.
How is a Cleft Palate Fixed?
For babies born with a cleft palate, surgery is typically recommended as early as possible, ideally within the first eighteen months of the child's life. If the child also has a cleft lip, this surgery is usually performed first, often within the first twelve months of the child's life. The surgery to repair a cleft palate is performed under general anesthesia, and usually takes between two to six hours to complete. The goal of the procedure is to close the hole in the palate. Closing the cleft improves speech and allows for food and liquids to go down the throat instead of up the nasal passage.
Some children will need additional procedures as they get older and may need to undergo speech therapy as well to ensure that their speech develops normally. For children who have a cleft in their gums in addition to the cleft palate, this opening is not usually repaired until the child is seven or eight, because the jaw needs to grow more before this surgery can be performed. After surgery, most children who were born with cleft palates are able to live happy, healthy lives. To learn more about cleft palate repair, call our office today.