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Identifying Cleft Palate Symptoms

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Medically Reviewed By Colgate Global Scientific Communications

As a new mother, the health of your baby is of the utmost importance. The risk of a birth defect is something that crosses most parents’ minds. Cleft Palate is a birth defect that can happen. According to the CDC, 1 in every 1,687 babies in the United States is born with a cleft palate. It is serious, but it can be surgically repaired. Here’s important information to know if you’re concerned about your child having a cleft palate.

What Is Cleft Palate?

During pregnancy, a cleft palate can form. It's when a baby's upper jaw does not fully close in gestation. The baby is born with an opening in the roof of the mouth, leaving a hole between the nose and mouth.

Cleft Palate Symptoms

A cleft palate is a split in the roof of your baby's mouth. It is easily identifiable at birth and can also include a cleft lip.

Sometimes, a baby can be born with a submucous cleft palate; this type of cleft may not be noticed until later in life. Though the palate appears intact, below the mucous membrane resides a depression comprised of muscular and bone irregularities. Symptoms for this type of cleft palate are:

1) Nasally Sounding Speech Due to Air Exiting Through the Nose

Your child may have a delay in starting to babble while having a limited consonant range while babbling. He or she might be delayed in uttering their first words while learning additional words at a slower pace. As your child ages, he or she might be prone to articulation errors and a delay in expressive language abilities. Developing Soft Voice Syndrome is also a concern.

2) Feeding Issues

Feeding challenges occur in babies because they won't be able to separate the nasal and oral cavities. Your baby may have swallowing problems causing food and liquids to enter the nose. If nursing, this prevents your baby from sucking and affects your baby's ability to express breast milk from the nipple. Inadequate nutrition may lead to poor weight gain. Your baby might take in too much air and experience fatigue due to working so hard to feed.

3) Ear Infections

These can happen due to abnormal muscle attachment. 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 happens before a child reaches 18 months of age, but it can occur as early as six months if earlier intervention is needed. The surgery is performed under general anesthesia. The surgeon closes the cleft by bringing together muscles and tissues after making incisions on both sides of the cleft. Dissolving stitches will seal the gap. After surgery, children typically spend a day or two in the hospital.

If your child has surgery, the surgeon will provide you with post-op instructions. They may include the following:

  • Discourage your child from touching the surgically repaired area
  • Pacifiers and sippy cups with spouts are a no-no until the doctor says otherwise
  • Soft foods like ice cream, yogurt, and purees are recommended for the first week post-surgery
  • You should not allow your child to eat hard foods for six weeks

Cleft palate, while serious, is a congenital disability that is surgically repairable. Talk to your pediatrician if you think your child may have an undiagnosed cleft palate.


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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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