What is a Bilateral Cleft Palate?

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  • Written By: Jacquelyn Gilchrist
  • Edited By: Michelle Arevalo
  • Last Modified Date: 11 August 2019
  • Copyright Protected:
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The roof of the mouth, which is underneath the nasal cavity, is called the palate. A cleft palate is an abnormal narrow opening between the nasal cavity and the palate. Often, there is only one of these openings. If there are two gaps, on both sides of the mouth, it is called a bilateral cleft palate. Sometimes, this occurs along with a cleft lip, which is a gap in the lip that travels up to the nose.

A bilateral cleft palate is a type of birth defect. It is typically diagnosed immediately at birth, because it is usually quite visible. The condition may also be detected with an ultrasound while the child is still in the womb.

Aside from the physical appearance of a cleft palate, there are a number of complications that may arise from this condition. Children with this birth defect often have trouble feeding correctly. It may be difficult for them to fasten their mouths on a nipple, and breast milk or formula may also leak into the nasal cavity. These children are also more susceptible to ear infections, dental problems, hearing loss, and speech impediments.


While the exact cause of a bilateral cleft palate is unknown, it is likely influenced by genetic factors. A family history of this defect increases the risk of a baby being born with it. It is also possible that the condition is more likely to develop when the mother smokes, drinks alcohol, or takes recreational drugs while pregnant. Viruses and some medications can also increase the risk.

Treatment for a bilateral cleft palate typically begins soon after the child is born. This condition can generally be corrected with a series of surgeries. Children who have a cleft lip in addition to the palate defect will likely have surgery to repair the lip first, when they are approximately 10 to 12 weeks old. Surgery on the palate generally takes place when the child is between six and 18 months old.

These surgeries are performed while the child is unconscious, under general anesthesia. To repair the bilateral cleft palate, the surgeon will manipulate the tissues and muscles on either side of the clefts to draw the opening closed. Patients will usually need to stay in the hospital, typically for two to three days.

Depending on the success of the initial surgery, the child may undergo additional procedures for further improvement. These operations may focus on the alignment of the jaw, improvement of breathing and speech, as well as cosmetic enhancements. As the child grows, his facial bones will also change. He may need to wait for a final surgery until the facial structure is fully developed.



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