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How Does Your Child’s Cleft Palate Affect Their Oral Health?

Published date field Last Updated:

Medically Reviewed By Colgate Global Scientific Communications

If your child has a cleft palate, you may be wondering what you can do to help them maintain good oral hygiene. And you would not be alone in this quest to help your little one. This common birth condition is a concern for a lot of other parents, too. Thankfully, with a little bit of know-how and a great dentist (in some circumstances, a team of specialists), your child can have healthy teeth that will make you both smile.

What Is a Cleft Palate?

Clefts develop during the first few weeks of pregnancy if the tissue that forms the roof of the mouth or the lip doesn't join correctly. According to the Mayo Clinic, openings in the lip and the roof of the mouth are among the most commonly occurring congenital anomalies in newborns. The National Institute of Craniofacial Research estimates that 2,650 babies are born with cleft palates each year in the United States. And 4,440 babies are born with a cleft lip, with or without a cleft palate. There are various surgeries and corrective appliances available to treat cosmetic and health issues associated with clefts depending on the severity.

Learn more about cleft palate surgery.

What Causes a Cleft?

There is no one definitive cause, but the CDC cites studies showing that these factors may increase risk:

  • Smoking during pregnancy
  • Maternal diabetes
  • Maternal diet
  • Use of certain medicines by the mother (mainly medication used to treat epilepsy)
  • Exposure to air pollutants
  • And genetic factors all may play a role.

How Can Teeth Be Affected by a Cleft Palate?

Clefts can affect more than just the lip and the roof of your child's mouth – it can also impact the positioning, size, shape, and number of their teeth. And consistent exposure to the air can dry up saliva and allow bacteria to flourish. According to studies performed by the University of Washington, people with this facial difference may have abnormal salivary glands that can adversely affect their oral health, too. Accordingly, people with clefts tend to have a higher than average rate of tooth decay.

What Can You Do to Help Your Child Maintain Good Oral Hygiene?

For children with a cleft lip or palate, practicing good oral hygiene and seeing a dentist for regular checkups is of the utmost importance to ensure a future with healthy teeth. Start brushing early, at least twice a day.

It's recommended that you schedule your child's first dental appointment early. Many dentists suggest bringing children with clefts in for a checkup well before their first birthday so they can identify potential issues. Be sure to ask if they have any recommendations on how to best care for your child's specific needs. If you return regularly for checkups, your dental professional will be able to monitor for any developing tooth decay.

Remember that any time spent with your little one is a chance to have some fun. Happy brushing – you've got this!


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This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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