When the roof of the mouth (palate) is not completely joined, this is known as cleft palate. There are several different types of cleft palate that vary in severity:
- Complete: Soft and hard palate are involved as well as the alveolus (the bony ridge that holds your gums and teeth).
- Incomplete: There is a split in the roof of the mouth, and normally only involves the back of the palate.
- Submucous: Cleft of the muscle only, which is not visible but can impair speech.
Almost all types of cleft palate require surgical intervention to ensure your child’s normal speech and psychological development. Surgery is usually performed when your child is 9-12 months old.
Problems Associated with Cleft Palate
Cleft palate alone can mean early difficulty sucking, which can translate into poor weight gain if help feeding is not available. Children typically have trouble breastfeeding and special bottles are usually required to feed normally.
Fairfax and Northern Virginia children with unrepaired cleft palates will not be able to speak properly. To avoid this, we ideally repair the palate before the time children are learning to make words. We balance this timing with the need to allow children’s palates to grow for as long as possible before disrupting their growth with surgery.
Where Can I Find a Professional in?
Cleft lip and palate require surgical expertise and compassionate care to address the unique needs of your child. Surgery can be scary for children, even at a young age. Dr. Jespersen will put you and your child at ease because she is:
- Board-certified with years of pediatric training.
- Adept at working with a medical team including otolaryngologists, speech pathologists, feeding specialists, and pediatrics and genetics specialists to give your child the best possible results.
- Knowledgeable about how to minimize scarring so that your child has the best possible appearance and functional speech results.
In addition to working with Fairfax and Northern Virginia children at her office, Dr. Jespersen provides free cleft palate surgery to underserved children in Venezuela through her work with Rotaplast International.
How Does This Problem Affect Speech?
Because the palate is involved in vocalization, children’s speech is negatively affected. Cleft palate can:
- Delay your child’s speech development.
- Create pronunciation problems.
- Distort speech so that your child is difficult to understand.
Fairfax and Northern Virginia plastic surgeon, Dr. Jespersen works with speech pathologists to ensure that surgically correcting cleft palate results in speech improvement. Sometimes speech difficulty can persist even though the palate is repaired.
In these infrequent cases, Dr. Jespersen will continue to work with her team and your child to plan a course of speech therapy to improve articulation. In rare cases this is not sufficient to correct the problem and further surgery is needed, and Dr. Jespersen will explain the choices that are available for those treatments as well.
Importance of Timely Correction
Repair for cleft palate should be done as early as is appropriate to avoid your child having problems with speech which can impact academic performance, self-esteem, and peer relationships.
If your child has been diagnosed with cleft palate, call our office in the Fairfax and Northern Virginia area at (703) 992-7969 for more information about how we can help you.