There's no denying that being born with a cleft palate is a tough way to start life. Cleft palate symptoms and those of cleft lips are easy to identify. This common birth defect appears as an opening in the roof of the mouth and the nasal cavity. It is the result of the two sides of the palate failing to fuse together as an unborn baby develops. Cleft palates are closely related to cleft lips, another congenital defect in which one or more fissures or gaps form in the upper lip. Babies can be born with one or both conditions.
The good news is that remarkable advances have been made in the treatment of cleft palates and cleft lips. Many well-known people, including professional athletes, award-winning actors and major political figures, were born with clefts. Despite facing what at first appeared to be an insurmountable handicap, each has gone on to achieve great things in life thanks to the dedication of many doctors, dentists and specialists.
Cleft Palates and Cleft Lips Are Common
Cleft palates and cleft lips, sometimes incorrectly referred to as hair lips or harelips, are among the most frequent birth defects. According to Colgate World of Care, they occur in approximately one out of every 700 live births in the United States. Clefting is most commonly seen in children of Asian, Latino and Native American descent. Boys are more likely than girls to be born with a cleft lip while girls are more prone to have a cleft palate without a cleft lip.
Scientists don't know the exact causes leading to the development of a cleft palate and lip. They believe that a combination of genetic and environmental factors increase the likelihood of clefting. What experts do know is that oral clefting happens early in a pregnancy and that many children born with cleft palates and cleft lips simply often don't have enough tissue in their mouths. Most children with clefts in the United States have reconstructive surgery within their first year of life to correct the defect and significantly improve facial appearance.
Cleft Palate Symptoms
The visible symptoms of cleft palate are so distinctive that diagnosing clefting is usually very easy. In many instances, the condition will be discovered by a prenatal ultrasound. If cleft palate symptoms have not been detected prior to the baby's birth, they will be immediately identified at delivery. Facial defects are a common symptom of both hard and soft palate clefts. Liquids leaking from the nose typically indicate a soft palate cleft, while weak sucking, gagging and difficulty swallowing are commonly seen with a hard palate cleft.
The severity and appearance of cleft palates can vary greatly, depending upon whether the lack of fusion of the soft and/or hard palates is partial or complete. In more serious cases, the cleft extends through both the front and rear of the palates. Other times, only limited clefting occurs. Unilateral clefts occur on only one side of the mouth while bilateral clefts appear on both sides. The three most common forms of clefting are:
Cleft Lip Symptoms
A cleft lip appears as a separation of the two sides of the upper lip. Typically the cleft is a narrow gap or opening in the skin extending all the way to the base of the nose. A cleft lip will often include the bones of both the upper gum and jaw. As with cleft palates, cleft lips form while the fetus is developing.
Hidden Cleft Palate Symptoms
Some babies are born with submucous cleft palates. This condition is more difficult to diagnose because the cleft is "hidden" by the mouth's lining. A newborn may not display any of the most readily identifiable cleft lip and palate symptoms. An infant with a submucous cleft palate may experience trouble feeding, nasal regurgitation and excessive gassiness. As the child ages and learns how to speak, other indicators of this cleft may appear, including an unusually nasal sounding voice and increased nasal discharge. It's important to tell your doctor if your child displays these symptoms of cleft palate.
Recognizing the Symptoms of Cleft Palate Is a Start
Fortunately, the steps necessary to correct a cleft palate or cleft lip are now a science. Outcomes are generally very positive though in some instances it may take years to complete the all the necessary procedures. Maintaining good dental health is a critical component of the treatment plan.
For help in finding a dentist or oral surgeon near you who specializes in the treatment of cleft palates, search now or call 1-866-970-0441.