Cleft palate is a birth defect in which the roof of the mouth (palate) does not develop normally during pregnancy, leaving an opening (cleft) that may go through to the nasal cavity. Until treated surgically, cleft palate can interfere with feeding, speech development, and hearing.
Cleft palate is usually noticed at birth during a newborn's first physical examination. The condition often occurs with cleft lip; sometimes problems linked with cleft palate also include deformities of the nasal septum or nasal cavity. The severity and type of cleft palate vary according to where the cleft occurs on the palate and whether all the layers of the palate are affected.
This defect forms early in fetal development if the bone and tissue of the upper jaw do not completely join. It may be inherited or develop as a result of maternal environmental exposures during pregnancy, such as consumption of alcohol.
Surgery is used to correct cleft palate; complex problems usually require more surgeries and treatment, such as speech therapy. Before the defect is repaired, special assistance may be required for feeding, such as using a special nipple on the baby's bottle.