Cleft palate – causes, symptoms and treatment

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Cleft lip and cleft palate are caused during the development of the fetus and are present at birth. This is called a congenital defect. A cleft palate is a hole in the roof of the mouth. A cleft lip is a notch in the upper lip. Both of these can vary in size and are quite obvious and thus cause anxiety.

Cleft lip and cleft palate: causes

Clefts are thought to a result of genetic influences, although strangely there is often no history of the condition in the family.

During development of the fetus the mouth and lip do not close properly. This forms a whole which is known as a cleft.

Cleft lip and cleft palate often happen together, sometimes in association with other problems. Occasionally bone can be involved, causing deformity of the nose as well, but more often it is only soft tissue such as the skin which is affected.

Approximately 1 in 800 births will be affected by cleft lip and/or cleft palate, with cleft lip being more common.


Cleft lips and/or cleft palates can range from a small notch in the upper lip, to a very noticeable whole in the lip and palate. Sometimes the condition can be so severe as to affect the nose. With a cleft palate, the hole in the roof of the mouth means there’s a connection between the mouth and the nose, which can cause problems in breathing and eating.


Treatment for cleft lips and/or cleft palates depends on their severity.

Initially a baby will be fed with special equipment which delivers milk to the baby’s tummy.

A cleft lip is usually repaired through surgery at 3-6 months of age, and a cleft palate at around 9-12 months, before the child starts to speak. The cosmetic results with cleft lips alone are excellent. Speech therapy is often used in correcting speech problems associated with a cleft palate.

Children who have a cleft lip or cleft palate are more prone to ear infections and other problems and may need frequent medical attention.

Specialized dental care might also but is not always necessary.

Prevention of cleft lip and cleft palate

Cleft lip and/or cleft palate can’t be prevented. There is nothing that parents can do to prevent this condition and you should feel no guilt if your child is born with this unfortunate condition.

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