A cleft palate is a gap in the roof of the mouth that results when the two sides of the palate do not join together during development.
The palate (mouth) has two main parts – a hard bone portion that is in the front half of the palate and a floppy soft part in the back half of the palate. Run your tongue along the roof of your mouth from your teeth backwards.
If there is a cleft of the palate, the result is that the two sides of the palate have a gap between them.
A patient can have cleft palate alone (isolated cleft palate), with a cleft lip or part of a syndrome. Patients with cleft palate alone have different inheritance patterns and characteristics from patients with cleft lip and palate or cleft lip alone.
Cleft palate alone occurs in about 1 in 1,500 children born in the U.S. It occurs more often in girls than in boys. The rates do vary by ethnicity with higher rates (1 in 500) in patients of Asian descent and lower rates (1 in 2,000) in patients of African descent. A cleft lip and palate together is the most common occurrence. It is seen in about 1 in 600 children born in the U.S., occurring more often in boys than girls and more often on the left side than the right side.
There are several types of cleft palate, which can affect the type of surgery required.
Complete cleft palate occurs when there is a cleft of the hard and soft palate; the gap extends from just behind the front teeth all the way through the back of the palate. All of the bony and soft parts are involved.
Incomplete cleft palate occurs when there is a cleft of the soft palate only and at least some of the bone portion of the palate is intact. Usually, it is only the soft, floppy back portion of the palate that has the cleft.
Cleft palate happens because the palate is formed from several different pieces that normally join together in the center of the palate early in the pregnancy, 8-10 weeks from conception. Occasionally, these pieces do not join at all, or they can start to join but stop before the palate is fully formed, like a half-closed zipper.
There are many types of cleft palate repair, and your surgeon will present the very best options based on your unique case. Cleft palate is important to discover and treat because the palate has two main functions, and is vital for several key areas of a child’s development such as:
Having a cleft palate can affect the way these develop, so we consider it essential that a child with a cleft palate is cared for through a multidisciplinary approach from birth to adulthood by a craniofacial team, like the one we offer here at LSU Plastic Health.