What is a Cleft Palate

July 06, 2022

cleft palate full and bilateral illustration

A cleft palate occurs when there is a hole (cleft) in the roof of a child's mouth. Because of this hole, their nose and mouth is connected. The cleft can be different sizes, including:

  • In the back of the mouth 
  • Extends from the back of the mouth to the front
  • Extends from the back of the mouth all the way through the gums into the lip (cleft lip)

infographic what is cleft palate showing full and bilateral cleft palate illustrations

Does a cleft palate cause problems for babies?

Cleft palate can make it hard for your baby to eat and swallow. They might also have trouble breathing. When they are older, they may have trouble speaking.

What causes a cleft palate?

Cleft palate might not have a clear cause. In some cases, it may be caused by genetics (inheriting the condition from a parent) or by the following during pregnancy:

  • Genetics
  • Smoking or drinking
  • Vitamin deficiency
  • Taking certain medications

infographic what causes cleft palate genetics, smoking or drinking, vitamin deficiency, taking certain medications

How is a cleft palate treated?

Fortunately, treatment for a cleft palate is very successful, helping your child eat, drink and speak.

A team of pediatric surgeons can repair a cleft palate when a child is between 9 to 15 months old. The care team can include the following pediatric specialists:

Infographic how is cleft palate treated ENT specialists, plastic surgeons, speech therapists, orthodontist, and dentists

At Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital, we care for hundreds of children each year through our Cleft and Craniofacial Program. Our specialists offer comprehensive care throughout your child’s life.