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Cleft Palate

Cleft palate is a craniofacial congenital birth defect that affects the roof of the mouth. The defect develops during gestation when the two palates of the skull that form the roof of the mouth fail to join. The birth defect that occurs in around one of every 700 live births is often associated with cleft lip.

Causes and symptoms

The exact causes of cleft palate are often hard to determine. However the most common risk factors include:

  • Genetic predisposition
  • Drug abuse during pregnancy
  • Infections, viruses or toxins
  • Maternal diet and vitamin intake

Cleft palate is a visible malformation, so a simple physical exam of the mouth and nose immediately after birth will determine whether the baby is suffering from the condition. A cleft palate will affect a person in various ways:

  • It affects the appearance of the face
  • It can lead to changes in nose shape
  • It often leads to the development of poorly aligned teeth
  • It leads to problems with feeding and speech
  • It affects the process of weight gaining due to feeding problems
  • In severe cases it can cause ear infections

How is cleft palate treated?

In order to treat cleft palate reconstructive plastic surgery is needed. The procedure should be performed while the child is between 6 weeks and 9 months old, to make sure speech will develop normally. The procedure serves both aesthetic and functional purposes so it is usually the work of a team of specialists.

Cleft repair surgery is performed under general anesthesia. The child will stay in hospital for 5 to 7 days but full recovery can take up to 4 weeks. As with any surgical procedure cleft palate repair involves certain risks, including:

  • Negative reaction to medication
  • Breathing problems
  • Infections
  • Bleeding
  • Abnormal bone grow
  • Need for further surgeries

In certain cases surgery can be postponed, by placing a prosthetic device so the baby can feed normally until the cleft repair surgery. In severe cases after initial surgery a second surgical procedure might be needed later in life, to correct problems in the nose area. However continued follow-up is usually required with speech therapists and orthodontists.

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