Affecting one of every 700 babies annually, a cleft palate is a common birth defect that results in facial or oral malformations. With a cleft palate, a split or opening occurs in the roof of the mouth and can impact the hard and/or soft palate. A cleft lip is a split or separation of the two sides of the upper lip. These defects can occur on one or both sides of the mouth. In fact, patients can have a cleft palate without a cleft lip, a cleft lip without a cleft palate, or both a cleft lip and cleft palate.
Most of the causes of a cleft defect are unknown. These issues typically occur very early in pregnancy. A cleft palate or cleft lip develops when not enough tissue is present or the tissue does not join together properly.
Because cleft defects create an obvious physical manifestation, diagnosing these deformities is usually easy. Sometimes, an ultrasound will pick up a cleft palate or cleft lip. If that doesn’t happen, the physical signs are often identified and confirmed at birth.
Cleft palates and cleft lips can cause difficulties such as eating problems, hearing concerns, speech delays, and dental issues. Children with cleft palates or cleft lips often have an increased risk of cavities as well as extra, missing, or malformed teeth. Part of treatment involves addressing oral health concerns.
Treatment for cleft palate issues begins in infancy and can continue into adulthood. Usually, children diagnosed with cleft palate deformities will have a team of doctors and specialists, including:
• A plastic surgeon to address the physical appearance
• An ear, nose, and throat doctor to evaluate and treat hearing issues
• An oral surgeon to reposition the upper jaw as needed and repair a cleft impacting the gum area
• An orthodontist to straighten the bite and teeth
• A dentist for routine dental care
• A speech pathologist to identify speech and feeding problems
• A speech therapist to work on language development