Cleft Soft Palate: What It Is, Why It Happens and How It's Treated

One of the most common birth defects found in newborns is the presence of a cleft palate. The American Dental Association(ADA) calculates that about 1 in 700 babies are affected. It can extend from the hard palate to the soft, but may be isolated to one of the two locations in a baby's mouth.

What is a cleft soft palate, how does it occur and how is it treated?

What Is a Cleft Palate?

Along with cleft lips, cleft palates happen when the roof of the mouth (palate) or lip doesn't join properly from both sides of the facial structures during the development in the mother's womb. They are usually found as isolated birth defects but can be present with other inherited genetic defects, according to the Mayo Clinic. The soft palate is located directly behind the hard palate (usually referred to as the "roof" of the mouth), and a cleft in that area affects normal eating and swallowing, pronunciation of specific words and doesn't provide a sufficient barrier to food, which may cause choking.

How Is It Treated?

A baby born with a cleft may look like he or she has a very serious, lifelong condition, but cleft lip and cleft palate can be corrected surgically by a team of specialists. In most babies, a few surgeries can fix the function and appearance of the mouth, though the procedures may result in a little scar. The soft palate would normally be surgically treated at the same time as the hard palate if affected, and may require repeat surgeries to advance both sides of the tissue that is split in the middle of the back of the throat.

Eating and speaking problems may develop because the upper dental arch was not properly formed at birth. The surgery is usually done at a very young age (between 3 and 6 months), and most children recover quickly and lead a normal life, says theADA.

Is It Serious?

Occasionally, follow-up surgeries are scheduled to prevent scarring and to correct any minor problems with skeletal and facial growth that may not be exactly expected to heal normally, and to replace teeth or gums that may be missing due to the birth defect. If the child has speaking difficulties or infections caused by the cleft soft palate, the surgeries may correct these conditions.

Meticulous oral hygiene, preventive maintenance visits and an early consultation with an orthodontist and other facial growth specialists are usually common for patients with cleft lip and palate.

In summary, despite the initial shock of the appearance of a cleft palate, today's available surgical treatments usually have great outcomes. Organizations such as Smile Train America ensure that children of all walks of life are able to receive this surgery that leads to a lifetime of smiles.

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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Cleft lip and palate are birth defects that occur because a baby’s lip or mouth does not form properly during pregnancy. A cleft lip is an upper lip that is split. It is caused by the failure of the tissue of the lip to join. A cleft palate occurs when the tissue that makes up the roof of the mouth does not come together.