Cleft Palate Program

Cleft Palate FAQs

What is Cleft Lip and Cleft Palate?
Cleft lip and cleft palate occurs when the lip and/or palate of a baby do not “fuse” or grow together, leaving a hole in the roof of the mouth (cleft palate) and/or an opening in the upper lip (cleft lip). This condition occurs as early in between three to seven weeks of the first trimester of pregnancy and can occur on one side only (unilateral cleft lip/palate) or on both sides (bilateral cleft lip/palate).

The roof of the mouth is known as the palate. The hard palate is in the front, closer to the teeth; the soft palate is in the back, toward the throat.

In cleft palate, the roof of the mouth (palate) has an opening (cleft) that may go through to the nasal cavity. This birth defect is corrected with one or more surgeries.

What Causes Cleft Lip and Cleft Palate?
A combination of genetic and environmental factors is believed to be the cause of this birth defect. Cleft palate/lip can occur as the result of a syndrome or can occur alone without the presence of any other anomalies. The incidence of cleft is 1:700.

What Problems Can Occur as a Result of Cleft Lip and Cleft Palate?
Problems associated with cleft lip and/or cleft palate are directly related to the location and severity (size) of the cleft. Usually, the most immediate concern with cleft palate is feeding since the baby is unable to suck. As the baby grows and develops, other issues may arise such as ear infections, delayed speech development, and dental/orthodontic problems.

What is The Treatment for Cleft Lip and Palate?
Treatment for cleft lip and palate usually begins as soon as the baby is born and continues throughout the child’s development. Ideally, an interdisciplinary team consisting of a plastic surgeon, nurse, social worker, occupational therapist, otolaryngologist, dentist/orthodontist, and speech pathologist will work together to determine the best course of treatment and carefully monitor the child’s progress over time. Surgical lip repair can be done anywhere from 10 weeks and up as long as the baby is at least 10 pounds and medically stable. Often, the child with a cleft palate will require careful monitoring by a dentist/orthodontist to access dental, facial, and jaw growth and development. As the child develops, speech therapy services may be necessary to help the child with producing speech sounds correctly. Surgical repair of the cleft palate is done anywhere from 10 months and up and the baby must be weaned off from the bottle.

What is The Long-Term Prognosis?
Understandably, the parents of a child with cleft lip/palate usually have many concerns about their child’s physical appearance, as well as social, emotional, academic, and speech development. The good news is that most surgical repairs of the palate and lip are virtually undetectable. Also, with proper intervention and care, a child with cleft lip and/or palate can develop normally in every aspect of his/her life.

Where Can I Find More Information?
Here is a list of helpful websites for more information to help parents to be informed and seek the best care for their child:

White Memorial Cleft Palate Program

Cleft Palate Foundation

Wide Smiles: Cleft Lip and Palate Resource


American Society of Plastic Surgeons

Kid's Health for Parents


Conditions & Treatments