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What is cleft palate repair?

Cleft Palate Repair

Cleft palate repair, also called palatoplasty, is surgery to correct a cleft palate. Cleft palate is a birth defect that occurs when the palate, or roof of the mouth, doesn't fuse together properly during development. It results in a gap or split in the roof of the mouth that can vary in size. 

Cleft palate may only affect the soft palate, which is the soft tissue and muscles at the back of the roof of the mouth. This is called an incomplete cleft palate. A complete cleft palate affects the entire palate, running from the soft palate through the hard palate behind the teeth and gums. In addition, the cleft may affect one side of the palate, called unilateral cleft palate, or both sides, called bilateral cleft palate. 

Cleft palate repair closes the opening in the palate to restore the structure and function of the palate.  

Cleft palate repair is a major surgery with serious risks and potential complications. Most children with cleft palate have the surgery between nine and 12 months of age. 

Other procedures that may be performed 

Cleft palate may occur alone or with cleft lip. Cleft lip is a birth defect that occurs when the upper lip doesn't fuse together properly during development. Cleft lip results in a split in the upper lip that can extend up to the nose. Cleft palate and cleft lip may require correction in separate surgeries. 

Your child’s doctor may recommend other procedures before, during or after cleft palate repair including:

  • Dental and orthodontic procedures to repair dental problems, such as gum problems, bone defects, and small, missing, abnormal, displaced or extra teeth 
  • Ear tube placement to prevent or treat middle ear problems including hearing problems, earaches, and ear infections
  • Jaw surgery to correct an upper jaw that does not grow properly, resulting in an underbite
  • Pharyngeal flap surgery to improve speech
  • Rhinoplasty, or nose surgery, to improve the function and appearance of the nose
Medical Reviewers: Daphne E. Hemmings, MD, MPH Last Review Date: Jul 11, 2013

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Medical References

Cleft Lip and Cleft Palate. Boston Children's Hospital. http://www.childrenshospital.org/az/Site2034/mainpageS2034P4.html. Accessed April 25, 2013.
Cleft Lip and Palate. KidsHealth. http://kidshealth.org/parent/medical/ears/cleft_lip_palate.html. Accessed April 25, 2013.
Cleft Lip and Palate Repair. American Society of Plastic Surgeons. http://www.plasticsurgery.org/Reconstructive-Procedures/Cleft-Lip-and-Palate.html. Accessed April 25, 2013.
Cleft Palate Repair. Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC. http://www.chp.edu/CHP/Cleft+Palate+Repair. Accessed April 25, 2013.
A Guide to Understanding Cleft Palate and Palate. Children's Craniofacial Association. http://www.ccakids.com/assets/syndromebk_clp.pdf. Accessed April 25, 2013.

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