While most parents are familiar with cleft palate, few have heard of an associated condition known as bifid uvula. What exactly does this condition look like, and how will I know if my child has it? Is it something I should worry about? We're here to answer your questions, ease your concerns, and walk you through what you should know about bifid uvula.
What Is a Bifid Uvula?
Bifid uvula is a congenital condition (present at birth) that causes your child’s uvula to be bisected into two parts. If you’re having trouble seeing it, the uvula is the soft tissue hanging in the back of your child’s throat when they open their mouth and say, “ahh.”
The uvula is part of your child’s soft palate (muscular tissue) and comprises connective tissue, muscle, and salivary glands. According to the International Journal of Pediatric Otorhinolaryngology, less than 1% of school-aged children are diagnosed with this disorder (though they noted that some studies had found certain populations with higher rates).
The functions of your child’s uvula include:
- Blocking food matter and drinks from entering their nasal passage
- Triggering their gag reflex to prevent choking
- Helping them to enunciate when speaking
Bifid uvula occurs when the two sides of the roof of your child’s mouth do not properly join during development, similar to cleft palate. This condition differs from cleft palate in that it often goes undiagnosed until after birth or later in life as it’s typically not visible during ultrasounds.
Causes of bifid uvula may include:
- Genetics inherited from the parents
- Developmental issues
- Congenital disorders
- Environmental factors during pregnancy
You’ll be glad to hear that this condition is often benign (harmless) and asymptomatic, meaning children live totally healthy lives with it.
Bifid uvula may be associated with:
- Difficulty with breastfeeding, your child may have trouble properly drinking breastmilk.
- Loeys-Dietz syndrome, a rare connective tissue disorder.
- Submucous cleft palate, a congenital disorder resulting in an improper fusion between the sides of the roof of your child’s mouth.
- Hypernasal speech, when air escapes into the nasal passage during speaking (resulting from submucous cleft palate).
Because the condition is sometimes caused by factors out of your control, like genetics, it’s not always preventable. To reduce your child’s risk of developing bifid uvula, avoid behaviors that can increase your risk of your child developing congenital conditions, like smoking, drinking, or consuming drugs during pregnancy. If this concerns you, it’s a good idea to ease your worries by speaking with your medical professional.
Luckily, most children with bifid uvula will not require treatment if they do not have hypernasal speech, according to Nationwide Children’s Hospital. Some parents may also choose to pursue treatment in cases where their child has extreme difficulty feeding or speaking. If your child does require treatment, it is typically a simple procedure to connect the palate or uvula that did not properly fuse during development.
If you believe your child has bifid uvula, it’s a smart bet to schedule a visit with a professional. Fortunately, you have a wealth of options to choose from, including dental professionals, genetics counselors, psychologists, speech therapists, otolaryngologists, and your regular medical professional.
You’ve made a great choice to read up on this rare and often benign condition. If you think your child has or could have bifid uvula, it’s a safe choice to check in with your dental or medical professional to see if they believe further diagnosis or treatment is needed by a specialist. You’re now prepared with information around this condition and what potential issues it's associated with.
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.