What is cleft palate?
Cleft palate is a treatable
birth defect. It happens when the roof of the baby's mouth (palate) doesn't
develop normally during pregnancy, leaving an opening (cleft) in the palate
that may go through to the nasal cavity. A cleft can form on any part of the
palate, including the front part of the roof of the mouth (hard palate) or the
small flap of tissue that hangs down from the soft palate (uvula). It may appear by itself or along with other
birth defects of the face and skull, such as a
cleft lip .
Cleft palate and cleft lip
are the most common birth defects of the head and neck. Until a cleft palate is treated with surgery, it can cause
problems with feeding, speech, and hearing.
What causes cleft palate?
Doctors aren't sure what
causes it. But your baby may be more likely to have cleft palate if you:
- Use certain medicines while you're
- Use alcohol or illegal drugs while you're
- Smoke while you're pregnant.
- Are exposed to
radiation or infections while you're pregnant.
- Have a family
history of cleft palate.
It's important to take good care of yourself before and
during your pregnancy so that your baby will be as healthy as possible.
If someone in your family was born with a cleft palate, you may want to think about
genetic counseling. It can help you understand your
chances of having a child with a cleft palate.
What are the symptoms?
Some forms of cleft palate
are easy to see when the child is born. But even if the cleft palate doesn't affect
how the baby’s face looks, it can usually be seen inside the mouth.
The location of the cleft matters more than how it looks. A small cleft
in the soft palate may cause more problems-because of its effect on speech-than
a large cleft that is easy to see.
Babies with cleft palate often
have feeding problems because they aren't able to suck and swallow normally.
But this doesn't always last, especially with treatment.
How is cleft palate diagnosed?
A doctor can
diagnose cleft palate by doing a physical exam of the baby’s mouth shortly
Fetal ultrasound can sometimes find cleft palate as
early as 14 to 16 weeks into pregnancy, especially if the cleft palate is
severe and occurs along with a cleft lip. But ultrasound doesn't always find
the problem, so doctors don't rely on it to diagnose cleft palate.
How is it treated?
Treatment involves a team of
health care providers. The type of treatment depends on how severe the problem
Surgery is the most common treatment for cleft palate. For the
most part, it’s done when the child is between 12 months and 18 months old.1 Before surgery, your baby may need treatment for breathing or feeding problems. He or she may also wear a mouth support, such as a dental splint, a soft dental molding
insert, or medical adhesive tape.