A child with a cleft palate may experience functional difficulties in one or more areas such as feeding, hearing, and speech development. It is generally important to begin efforts to correct the cleft early in a child’s life, usually between six and eighteen months of age.
Cleft palate repair may require multiple surgeries during infancy, later childhood, and perhaps even adolescence. The complete palate repair usually entails a series of surgical procedures and may involve several areas of medical specialty such plastic surgery, otolaryngology, dentistry and orthodontics. Thereafter, therapy may be needed from nutritionists and speech pathologists.
A successful initial surgery to close the hole in a cleft palate promotes weight gain and reduces the frequency of recurring ear infections. A second surgery may be required when the child is approximately eight years old to repair the cleft in the gum line. If later there is found to be difficulty with jaw development, a subsequent surgery in the child’s mid to late teen years may also be necessary. During this procedure, a bone graft is performed to further support the upper jaw structure and aid in speech articulation. After these primary surgeries are completed, a plastic surgeon may perform one or more additional procedures to remove scar tissue and improve cosmetic appearance. Braces are sometimes required to straighten the permanent teeth.
After surgery, your child may require several days of close monitoring and, in most cases, a series of doctor visits for follow-up care. Recent advances in understanding and treating cleft palates now offer the hope of successful outcomes that can help provide your child with a positive self-image, attractive appearance, clear speech, improved hearing, and healthy teeth.