Cleft palate is one of the most common oral defects in newborns. It is an opening in the roof of the child’s mouth that makes it difficult for the child to eat and speak. This opening can either occur in the hard palate (the bony part in front of the mouth) or the soft palate (the skin extending from where the hard palate ends to the back of the throat). A child with a cleft palate can have a split in the lip or gums or both. This condition makes it extremely difficult for patients to swallow food and drinks properly because they go up through the nose instead of going down through the throat. Their speech is also greatly affected.
The leading cause of cleft palate is not definitively known, but some scientists associate it with genetics and environmental conditions. The only remedy for a cleft palate is surgery. With the current technological advancements in dentistry, doctors can now close the opening in the patient’s mouth within a very short time. The patient will stay in the operating room for just a few hours and stay in the hospital for 2 to 3 days. For the surgery to go on successfully, the right preparations have to be done.
For example, you shouldn’t give your child blood-thinning medicines such as aspirin and ibuprofen two weeks before the surgery because they can cause excessive bleeding during surgery. You will also be asked questions regarding your child’s overall health, immunization, medications, and past surgeries. It is recommended that the child be given breast milk 4 hours and formula 6 hours before the surgery. No other liquids or solid foods should be given to the baby 8 hours before the operation.
Unless the doctor has advised you against it, continue giving your child their usual prescription drugs. A team of cleft palate specialists usually carries out the surgery. First, the child will be given anesthesia to relax or fall asleep, depending on the surgery’s complexity. The surgeon will then open the child’s mouth and place a brace into it to keep it open. They will then make incisions on along the cleft on each side of the palate, loosen the tissue attached to the bone of the hard palate so that it can be stretched, make another incision along the gums to be able to stretch the tissue of the palate toward the center of the roof. Finally, they will close the nasal (inner) layer of tissue first, followed by the oral (outer) layer. These incisions are closed using sutures (stitches) because they dissolve as the wounds continue to heal. This procedure puts muscles in the soft and hard palates in a more standard position to rebuild and grow.