Symptoms and Signs of Cleft Palate

Medical Author:
Medically Reviewed on 5/19/2022

Doctor's Notes on Cleft Palate: Symptoms, Types, and Stages

A cleft palate is an opening in the roof of the mouth (palate) that extends to the nose. Complete cleft palate syndromes are often accompanied by a cleft lip (an opening or split in the upper lip extending to the nose). There are three types: incomplete (starts at back of mouth but does not reach the front of the mouth), complete (opening extends from back to front of mouth), and submucous (mucosa covers opening). Signs and symptoms of cleft palate syndromes may not be present in some children until they are older. However, they include one or more of the following:

  • Trouble nursing or drinking from a bottle in newborns and babies
  • Problems swallowing
  • Feeding difficulties in babies
  • Ear infections/temporary hearing loss
  • Nasal speaking voice
  • Problems with tooth development (small teeth, missing or extra teeth, and crooked teeth) and physical deformity
  • Speech difficulties or disorders like stuttering, impaired voice
  • Mouth breathing
  • Snoring
  • Nasal congestion
  • Psychological and social problems like low self-confidence, depression, anxiety, and difficulty making friends

Although a cleft palate may be a birth defect and may be hereditary, most researchers consider it to be caused by an interaction of genes and environment. Currently, medical researchers have not determined a cause. Oral surgery may cure many patients.

What Are the Treatments for Cleft Palate?

Surgery to correct this defect is the major treatment for your child's cleft palate. Usually, the patient can need more than procedure. For example, the following is a surgical sequence utilized:

  • Cleft lip repair: 3-6 months of age
  • Cleft palate repair: done by age of 12 months or earlier
  • Additional surgeries: ages from 2 years to late teens

In addition, supportive care may be needed (for example, feeding care in infants, speech therapy, braces, ear tubes).

Your team of doctors can help you to arrange a treatment sequence that can optimize your child's care.

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Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.