When the right and left sides of the roof of the mouth do not join together during early fetal development, a child is born with a cleft palate. In some children, a cleft palate may involve only a tiny portion at the back of the roof of the mouth; for others, it can mean a complete separation that extends from front to back. Our staff includes surgeons who possess extensive training and experience in cleft palate repair in Albany to help improve the aesthetics and function of mouth and lips.
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Children can be born with a cleft lip, a cleft palate, or a combination of both because the lips and palate develop separately. Just as with a cleft lip, a cleft palate can appear on one or both sides of the upper mouth. However, repairing a cleft palate requires more extensive surgery than a cleft lip. This procedure is usually performed when the child is 9 to 18 months old, so he or she is bigger and better able to tolerate surgery.
To repair a cleft palate, the surgeon will make an incision on both sides of the separation, moving tissue from each side of the cleft to the center or midline of the roof of the mouth. This rebuilds the palate, joins muscle together, and provides additional length in the palate so the child can eat and learn to speak properly.
After cleft palate surgery, your baby may need to wear elbow immobilizers for a few weeks to protect the stitched area. Most stitches will either dissolve on their own or be removed within 5 days. You will be given instructions on feeding your child in the initial weeks after reconstructive surgery.
Children with a cleft palate are particularly prone to ear infections because the cleft can interfere with the function of the middle ear. To permit proper drainage and air circulation, the ear-nose-and-throat surgeon on the Cleft Palate Team may recommend that a small plastic ventilation tube be inserted in the eardrum. This relatively minor operation may be done later or at the time of the cleft repair. In addition, surgery may be recommended by your plastic surgeon when your child is older to refine the shape and function of the lip, nose, gums, and palate.
You'll want to discuss further needs with your child's Cleft Team member. Perhaps most importantly, keep in mind that cleft palate reconstructive surgery is just the first step in the process. Family support is critical for your child. By providing love and support, he or she will likely develop a positive self-image that transcends the birth defect.