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means split or separation of parts. During early pregnancy separate
areas of the face develop individually and then join together. If some
parts do not join properly the result is a cleft. The type and severity
of clefts vary from child to child.
A completely formed lip is important not only for a normal facial
appearance but also for sucking and to form certain sounds made during
speech. A cleft lip is a condition that creates an opening in the upper
lip between the mouth and nose. It looks as though there is a split in
the lip. It can range from a slight notch in the coloured portion of the
lip to complete separation in one or both sides of the lip extending up
and into the nose. A cleft on one side is called a unilateral cleft. If
a cleft occurs on both sides it is called a bilateral cleft.
A cleft in the gum may occur in association with a cleft lip. This
may range from a small notch in the gum to a complete division of the
gum into separate parts.
The palate is the roof of your mouth. It is made of bone and muscle
and is covered by a thin, wet skin that forms the red covering inside
the mouth. You can feel your own palate by running your tongue over the
top of your mouth. It's purpose is to separate your nose from your
mouth. The palate has an extremely important role during speech because
when you talk, it prevents air from blowing out of your nose instead of
your mouth. The palate is also very important when eating. It prevents
food and liquids from going up into the nose.
As in cleft lip, a cleft palate occurs in early pregnancy when
separate areas of the face have developed individually do not join
together properly. A cleft palate occurs when there is an opening in the
roof of the mouth. The back of the palate is called the soft palate and
the front is known as the hard palate. A cleft palate can range from
just an opening at the back of the soft palate to a nearly complete
separation of the roof of the mouth (soft and hard palate).
Sometimes a baby with a cleft palate may have a small chin and a few
babies with this combination may have difficulties with breathing
easily. This condition may be called Pierre Robin sequence.
A cleft palate is initially treated with surgery safely when the
child is between 7 to 18 months old. This depends upon the individual
child and his/her own situation. For example, if the child has other
associated health problems, it is likely that the surgery will be
There are many different techniques that surgeons will use to
accomplish these goals. The choice of techniques may vary between
surgeons and should be discussed between the parents and the surgeon
prior to the surgery.
After the palate has been fixed, children will immediately have an
easier time in swallowing food and liquids. However, in about 1 out of
every 5 children following cleft palate repair, a portion of the repair
will split, causing a new hole to form between the nose and mouth. If
small, this hole may result in only an occasional minor leakage of
fluids into the nose. If large however, it can cause significant eating
problems, and most importantly, can even affect how the child speaks.
This hole is referred to as a "fistula", and may need further surgery to