child smiling after cleft palate treatment

Identifying Cleft Palate Symptoms

Pregnancy can be a very trying process. There are many blood tests, screenings and ultrasounds to endure; each a milestone that brings you closer to holding your bundle of joy. But birth defects are a very real issue that can arise during pregnancy. Cleft palate is one type of birth defect that affects a baby's mouth. Learning about cleft palate symptoms will help you know what to look for if you think there's an issue with your baby.

What Is Cleft Palate?

A cleft palate is the result of a baby's upper jaw not fully closing during pregnancy. The product is a gap between the palate and the floor of the nose. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 2,650 babies are born every year in the United States with a cleft palate. Cleft palate is a very serious condition that, like cleft lip, requires a surgical procedure to correct.

Cleft Palate Symptoms

A cleft palate is basically a split in the mouth's roof and is easily identifiable at birth. It can occur in combination with a cleft lip or as a stand-alone. One version of a cleft that might not be recognizable until later is a submucous cleft palate. Though the palate appears intact, below the mucous membrane resides a depression comprised of muscular and bone irregularities. Symptoms to watch for that would indicate a submucous cleft are as follows:

  • Nasally sounding speech due to air exiting through the nose
  • Feeding and swallowing problems, including food and liquids entering the nose
  • Ear infections caused by atypical muscle attachments

Speech is affected in babies and children in multiple ways, notes the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. Babies may be delayed in starting to babble while having a limited consonant range while babbling. They might be delayed in uttering their first words while learning additional words at a slower pace. As children age, they might be prone to articulation errors and a delay in expressive language abilities. They may have soft voice syndrome.

Feeding challenges occur in babies as they can't separate the nasal and oral cavities. This prevents them from sucking while affecting their ability to express breast milk from the nipple. Inadequate nutrition may lead to poor weight gain. They might take in too much air and experience fatigue as a result of working so hard to feed.

In addition to ear infections, conductive hearing loss is possible. Over 90 percent of children with a cleft palate will suffer from middle ear fluid buildup. Hearing loss may also cause socialization issues in older children due to an inability to keep up with conversations.

Cleft Palate Surgery

Ideally, cleft palate repair surgery is performed before a child reaches 18 months of age, though, it can be performed at 6 months of age. The child is put under general anesthesia. A surgeon closes the cleft by bringing together muscles and tissues after making incisions on both sides of the cleft. Dissolving stitches are used to seal the cleft. After surgery, a child typically spends a day or two in the hospital recovering before being discharged. Parents should discourage a child from touching the surgically repaired area. Pacifiers and sippy cups with spouts shouldn't be used soon after surgery. Foods such as yogurt, ice cream and purees are all that should be eaten for the first week post surgery. Hard foods shouldn't be consumed for six weeks.

Helping your children develop a good oral care routine from a young age is one way to ensure they'll carry those habits throughout their lives. Good habits include brushing at least twice a day and flossing regularly. Regular dental checkups will not only keep their teeth in good working order, but also dispel any fears they might have about the dentist. Be sure to practice what you preach and your kids will be more apt to take care of their teeth, if you're doing the same.

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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