cleft palate

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1. a fissure or longitudinal opening, especially one occurring during embryonic development.
2. having such a fissure.
branchial cleft
1. one of the slitlike openings in the gills of fish between the branchial arches.
facial cleft
1. any of the clefts between the embryonic prominences that normally unite to form the face.
2. failure of union of one of these embryonic clefts; depending on the site, this causes such developmental defects as cleft cheek, cleft mandible, or cleft lip. Called also prosoposchisis.
cleft lip (cleft palate) congenital fissure, or split, of the lip (cleft lip) or of the roof of the mouth (cleft palate); one or the other occurs in about one birth per thousand. Sometimes they are associated with clubfoot (talipes) or other anatomic defects. They have no connection with mental retardation. Although poor health of the mother during pregnancy may have some effect on the development of her child, the old superstition that psychologic experiences of the pregnant mother can cause cleft palate and cleft lip has no scientific basis. However, it is true that parents who were born with cleft palate or cleft lip are somewhat more likely than other parents to have children with these defects.

Cleft palate and cleft lip result from failure of the two sides of the face to unite properly at an early stage of prenatal development. The defect may be limited to the outer flesh of the upper lip (the term harelip, suggesting the lip of a rabbit, is both inaccurate and unkind), or it may extend back through the midline of the upper jaw through the roof of the palate. Sometimes only the soft palate, located at the rear of the mouth, is involved.

The infant with a cleft palate is unable to suckle properly, because the opening between mouth and nose through the palate prevents suction. Feeding must be done by other means, with a dropper, a cup, a spoon, or an obturator, a device inserted in the mouth to close the cleft while the baby is sucking. Cleft palate allows food to get into the nose, and it causes difficulty in chewing and swallowing. Later it will hinder speech, because consonants such as g, b, d, and f, which are normally formed by pressure against the roof of the mouth, are distorted by resonance in the nasal cavity. The cleft may also prevent movements of the soft palate essential in clear speech.
Treatment. Treatment of cleft palate and cleft lip is by surgery, followed by measures to improve speech. A cleft palate should be reconstructed by plastic surgery when the child is about 18 months old, before he learns to talk. The corrective work usually requires only one operation. After surgery, the child often needs special training in speech to facilitate communication and maintain self-esteem. Cleft lip usually can be corrected by surgery when the child reaches a weight of 12 to 15 lb (5.4 to 7 kg), generally at the age of 2 to 3 months. Successful surgery often leaves only a thin scar and a greatly improved ability to form the p, b, and m sounds. A child born with a moderate degree of cleft palate or cleft lip can look forward to a life normal in appearance, speech, and manner if proper action is taken early. This means consulting and carefully following the advice of competent specialists in medicine, surgery, dentistry, and speech.
Patient Care. The main concerns during the preoperative period are maintenance of adequate nutrition, prevention of respiratory infections, and speech therapy to prevent development of bad habits of speech. Postoperative care must be aimed at prevention of trauma to or infection of the operative site. The child is not allowed to lie prone until the incision is completely healed. Elbow restraints are used to keep the fingers and hands away from the mouth. The patient is usually fed with a special syringe with a rubber tip as long as only liquids are allowed. When a soft diet is prescribed, care must be taken that the spoon or other eating utensils do not damage the suture line. Mouth care is given frequently to keep the mouth clean and reduce the danger of infection. Dental caries often occurs in patients with cleft palate and regular visits to the dentist are needed. Tender loving care, always a part of pediatric care, is even more necessary when caring for these children. They must be reassured and kept quiet so that crying and restlessness do not undo the work done by the surgeon. (See Atlas 1, Part A.)
A, Severe and B, mild form of cleft lip/palate. From Mueller et al., 2001.


the roof of the mouth. The hard palate is the front portion braced by the upper jaw bones (maxillae); it has a bony framework and forms the partition between the mouth and the nose. The soft palate is the fleshy part arching downward from the hard palate to the throat; it separates the mouth and the pharynx. When a person swallows, the rear of the soft palate swings up against the back of the pharynx and blocks the passage of food and air to the nose. A fleshy lobe called the uvula hangs from the middle of the soft palate. adj., adj pal´atal.
cleft palate see cleft lip and cleft palate.
premaxillary palate (primary palate) that portion of the palate that was the median nasal process during early development.
secondary palate that portion of the palate that was the lateral nasal processes during early development.
Miller-Keane Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Medicine, Nursing, and Allied Health, Seventh Edition. © 2003 by Saunders, an imprint of Elsevier, Inc. All rights reserved.

cleft pal·ate

a congenital fissure in the median line of the palate, often, but not necessarily associated with cleft lip. May occur as a component of other craniofacial anomalies or other syndromes, for example, diastrophic dwarfism or spondyloepiphysial dysplasia congenita; its general genetic incidence resembles that of cleft lip (1 in 750-1000 live births).
Farlex Partner Medical Dictionary © Farlex 2012

cleft palate

A congenital fissure in the roof of the mouth, resulting from incomplete fusion of the palate during embryonic development. It may involve only the uvula or extend through the entire palate.
The American Heritage® Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2007, 2004 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

cleft palate

Embryology A congenital defect characterized by a failure in the fusion of the hard and/or soft palate, often associated with cleft lip. See Cleft lip.
McGraw-Hill Concise Dictionary of Modern Medicine. © 2002 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

cleft pal·ate

(kleft pal'ăt)
A congenital fissure in the median line of the palate, often associated with cleft lip; often occurs as a feature of a syndrome or generalized condition (e.g., diastrophic dwarfism or spondyloepiphysial dysplasia congenita); its general genetic behavior resembles that of cleft lip
Synonym(s): palatoschisis.
Medical Dictionary for the Health Professions and Nursing © Farlex 2012

Cleft palate

A congenital malformation in which there is an abnormal opening in the roof of the mouth that allows the nasal passages and the mouth to be improperly connected.
Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Cleft Lip; Cleft Palate

DRG Category:134
Mean LOS:2.2 days
Description:SURGICAL: Other Ear, Nose, Mouth, and Throat Operating Room Procedures Without CC or Major CC

Cleft lip (CL) and cleft palate (CP) are facial malformations of the upper lip or palate that are the fourth most common congenital abnormality in the United States. They may appear separately or, more commonly, together. The malformation is a result of a failure of the maxillary and median nasal processes to fuse during the second month of embryonic development. CL may vary from a small notch to a complete cleft that extends into the base of the nose. When CP occurs alone, it is midline, but when it occurs with CL, it may extend into either side of the soft palate. Related complications of CL/CP include dental malformations, frequent otitis media leading to hearing impairment, speech difficulties, and social isolation due to poor self-image and speech impairments.


A genetic cause for CL/CP is likely; however, environmental exposure to teratogens during critical embryonic development cannot be ruled out. CL with or without CP is etiologically and genetically distinct from isolated CP. Isolated CP has a greater incidence of associated anomalies. CP may also be one of the three signs of Pierre Robin sequence, which also is associated with micrognathia and glossoptosis. There is a two-fold increase in the occurrence of clefts with maternal smoking in early pregnancy.

Genetic considerations

There are over 400 single-gene, complex disorders, or syndromes, that include CL and/or CP as features. Approximately 22% of facial clefting can be attributed to single-gene disorders. The gene IRF6 has been identified as a probable cause in approximately 12% of CLs and may account for familial trends. Familial CP appears to have an autosomal dominant pattern of transmission. Overall CL/CP heritability is estimated at approximately 76%. Along with the increased risk for CL/CP in some families, those families may have a greater risk genetically for specific types of cancer (e.g., colon) than families who do not have the associated congenital anomalies of CL/CP.

Gender, ethnic/racial, and life span considerations

The incidence of CL with or without CP varies by race, with a higher rate among Japanese and certain groups of Native Americans and a lower rate among African Americans. Infant males are more likely to have CL with or without CP, whereas females are more likely to have CP alone.

Global health considerations

A variety of genetic, environmental, and nutritional causes affect global prevalence. People in developing countries with poor nutrition or environmental exposure to toxins may have a higher risk for CL and CP than people in developed countries.



A family history of CL or CP may or may not exist. Identical twins are more likely to share the disorder than are fraternal twins. Inquire about teratogen exposure during the first trimester of pregnancy.

Physical examination

The primary symptoms are facial malformations of the upper lip or palate. The CL may vary from a small notch to a widespread open cleft and may be unilateral or bilateral. The CP also varies in the extent of the malformation: It can involve only the uvula, extend into the soft and hard palate, or be unilateral, bilateral, or midline.


Parents’ and families’ adjustments to an infant with CL or CP may be difficult. The deformity is usually readily observable at birth and often totally unexpected. Support for the family is essential and includes explanations of the surgical procedures and long-term prognosis.

Diagnostic highlights

There are no diagnostic tests for CL or CP. CL is diagnosed by visual inspection. CP is diagnosed by palpating the palate with a gloved finger during the initial newborn assessment at birth. Inspect the palate during crying. It is possible today to diagnose the presence of CL and CP in utero with an ultrasound. Three-dimensional ultrasound can be used to assess fetal faces accurately. Facial x-rays may be used to confirm the extent of bone deformity.

Primary nursing diagnosis


Altered nutrition: Less than body requirements related to inadequate intake


Nutritional status; Food and fluid intake


Bottle feeding; Infant care

Planning and implementation


CL and CP are treated with a combination of surgery, speech therapy, and orthodontic work. Surgical repair of a CL is performed within the first month after birth. The repair improves the child’s ability to suck. The optimal time to surgically correct a CP is controversial. Times range from 28 days of life to 18 months. Most surgeons prefer to perform the surgery at an early age before faulty speech habits develop. The more extensive the surgery required, the later the surgery may occur. Surgical repair of CL (cheiloplasty) is usually uncomplicated with no long-term intervention other than possible scar revision. Surgical repair of CP (palatoplasty) is more extensive and may require more than one surgery. Anesthesia for repair of CL/CP needs thoughtful consideration due to the proximity of surgery to the airway. If the infant has horseshoe defect, surgery may be impossible. A contoured speech bulb attached to the back of a denture appliance to occlude the nasopharynx may help the child speak.

Pharmacologic highlights

Medication or Drug ClassDosageRationale
AntibioticsDepends on the drug and weight of the childPrevent infection resulting from surgery
AnalgesicsDepends on the drug and weight of the childRelieve surgical pain

Experimental Treatment: Surgical repair of CL in animals in utero demonstrated better healing of the lip than conventional means.


Because of the long-term, multidisciplinary nature of services needed for the child, assist the parents in accessing appropriate support within the healthcare system. Support the parents before and during the surgical procedure by identifying the positive features of the newborn. Call the infant by name. Current surgical practices provide excellent repairs with minimal scarring. Encourage parents to discuss their feelings about the child’s appearance. Sharing pictures of children with successful CL repairs may help the parents cope with their fears and anxieties.

Depending on the severity of the cleft, children with CL/CP will have problems sucking. Work with the parents and experiment with devices that will improve nutrition, such as different kinds of nipples. The infant may feed better if the parents use a nipple with a flange that occludes the cleft or a large, soft nipple with large holes. Try holding the infant at different positions during feeding (e.g., at a 60- to 80-degree angle). Breastfeeding can be successfully carried out as long as the mother can maintain a seal during nursing. In some nursing pairs, the breast tissue may help form the seal. Otherwise, the mother can use the hand not holding the infant or she can use a molded nipple. Encourage discharge follow-up to support the breastfeeding mother-baby dyad.

Parents should be allowed to verbalize fears and anxiety about the deformity. The first time parents see their baby, they may experience shock, disappointment, or guilt. If you help them see the baby’s assets, you encourage bonding and acceptance. Allow ample time for the parents to hold the infant to promote bonding. Explain the surgical procedure and postoperative care to parents.

The postoperative management of an infant with a CL focuses on protection of the operative site. Surgical closure with Dermabond has demonstrated fewer infections and hypertonic scar repair than Steri-strips. Arm restraints prevent the child from rubbing the site and from self-injury. Hang baby toys within reach of the baby’s restrained hands. Many infants are more comfortable in an infant seat rather than lying in a crib. To avoid facial contact with the sheets, do not place infants on their stomachs for sleep. Pacifiers are contraindicated, and feeding methods should be designed to reduce any tension on the suture line. Use a cotton-tipped applicator and a cleansing solution to clean the suture line. An antibiotic ointment may be prescribed. Pain should be controlled with analgesic medication and nonpharmacologic strategies, such as holding and rocking.

The postoperative management of an infant with a CP centers on prevention of injury and infection to the operative site. Do not place sharp or potentially injurious objects in the child’s mouth (spoons, forks, straws, etc.). Feeding may be done from the side, but self-feeding is prohibited. After feeding, make sure to cleanse the child’s mouth with water or a cleansing solution.

Evidence-Based Practice and Health Policy

Reilly, S., Reid, J., Skeat, J., Cahir, P., Mei, C., & Bunik, M. (2013). ABM Clinical Protocol #17: Guidelines for breastfeeding infants with cleft lip, cleft palate, or cleft lip and palate, revised 2013. Breastfeeding Medicine, 8(4), 349–353.

  • Breastfeeding may not be initiated immediately in infants with cleft lip or palate because they have difficulty creating the suction necessary for feeding.
  • However, evidence-based recommendations include promoting breast milk by other methods, such as a bottle or spoon if the infant is unable to establish adequate sucking directly from the breast. Modifications to breastfeeding positions and possible delayed transitioning to the breast should also be discussed.
  • Additional recommendations propose that infants with CL or CP should be evaluated on an individual basis for breastfeeding readiness, and mothers who wish to breastfeed should be given immediate access to a lactation specialist.
  • Monitoring the infant’s hydration status and growth is recommended while an adequate feeding pattern is being established, in addition to introducing breastfeeding immediately following CL repair and 1 day after repair of a CP.

Documentation guidelines

  • Appearance of surgical site: Presence of redness, drainage, swelling; degree of approximation of wound edges
  • Response to pain medication and other nonpharmacologic interventions
  • Ability to feed and maintain weight

Discharge and home healthcare guidelines

Teach the parents feeding techniques, how to observe for aspiration, and to bubble the infant frequently. After surgery, teach the parents to avoid putting objects into the infant’s mouth.

prevention of infection.
Teach the parents to care for the incision and to assess the incision for infection. Explain the importance of keeping the infant’s hands away from the face. Tell the parents that it is important to hold the infant and remove the restraints from time to time.

pain control.
Teach the parents the signs of pain in an infant and explore with them nonpharmacologic methods to relieve pain. Review with the parents the analgesic medication dosage, time, and route.

Instruct parents that the child may have more recurrent middle ear infections than other children. The child may also need orthodontic or speech therapy at some time because of the deformity of the mouth and palate.

Diseases and Disorders, © 2011 Farlex and Partners

cleft pal·ate

(kleft pal'ăt)
Congenital fissure in median line of the palate, often, but not necessarily associated with cleft lip.
Medical Dictionary for the Dental Professions © Farlex 2012
References in periodicals archive ?
Universal parameters for reporting speech outcomesin individuals with cleft palate. Cleft Palate Craniofac J.
Exposure to certain substances during pregnancy: Cleft lip and cleft palate may be more likely to occur in pregnant women who smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol or take certain medications .
Inheritance of harelip and cleft palate. Copenhagen: Arnold Busck 1942.
Prevalence, pattern and perceptions of cleft lip and cleft palate among children born in two hospitals in Kisoro District, Uganda.
Effects of having a cleft lip or cleft palate include difficulty in feeding and speaking, but the largest effect remains to be emotional, with children suffering from bullying and low self-esteem because of their appearance.
Feeding obturator or appliance in a cleft palate patient: A case report.
The primary criticism of both our and previous synthetic cleft palate bench models [sup][1],[2],[3],[4],[5] has been their lack of fidelity with actual surgical practice.
Cleft palate is an opening between the mouth (oral cavity) and the nose (nasal cavity) that occurs when the tissues separating these two cavities do not grow together properly and it is a congenital disease.
Most of the recent literature recommends repair of cleft palate between 6 months to 18 months for best possible speech development and midfacial growth4.
ISLAMABAD -- Islamabad Cleft Lip and Plate Association (ICLAPA), which carried out free operations of cleft lip or cleft palate kinds, has decided to build a specialized hospital for the general treatment of children along with post-care health facilities.
Background: Cleft lip with or without cleft palate (CL/P) is one of the most common congenital anomalies and the etiology of orofacial clefts is multifactorial.
The authors do believe that more support is needed for young adults with a cleft palate condition after they reach the age of 18, especially when they are deciding to start families; they should be fully informed of the hereditary impact of their condition.