Cleft Palate Repair Overview

The roof of the mouth includes the hard palate in the front (made out of bone) and the soft palate in the back (made up of soft tissue and muscle). Cleft palate is a common birth defect in which the palate has a small opening or split. The cleft can vary in size and may appear near the back of the throat or extend all the way to the front of the mouth. It can happen together with cleft lip or by itself. Cleft palate may negatively affect your child’s speech and ability to feed. If your baby is affected by cleft palate, the team at MedStar Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery can help correct the condition.

Your child may require one or more surgeries to achieve a normal look and function. The first surgery is typically performed by 18 months of age or earlier. Follow-up surgeries may occur after your child is 2 years of age or older. During cleft palate repair surgery, your child will first be given anesthesia to provide maximum comfort. Then, your child’s surgeon will make incisions on both sides of the cleft and reposition the tissue and muscles. The tissue and muscle flaps are then stitched together to close the cleft.

Planning and Recovery

Before scheduling a surgery, your child may need a series of appointments to help assess the cleft palate and ensure he or she is growing and feeding well. Your child’s medical team may suggest non-surgical treatment to help improve the final surgical outcome.

Cleft palate repair at MedStar Health is performed in a hospital setting and generally takes between two to six hours. Your child will need to stay overnight after surgery. After the surgery, your child’s care team will discuss additional steps to care that may be needed while your child’s mouth continues to heal.

Pain medication may be prescribed to help alleviate any pain after the surgery. Expect healing to continue for several weeks as the swelling goes down.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Cleft palate repair is covered by some insurance plans, but not all. Please contact your insurance company to determine your specific coverage

If you’re exploring options for insurance coverage, you may need to request a referral from your primary care doctor, depending on your health insurance plan. Check with your carrier to see if medical coverage is an option for you and, if so, whether a referral is required.

Every surgical procedure involves some risk. According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, the risks of cleft palate repair include:

  • Anesthesia risks
  • Allergies to materials and medicines used during surgery
  • Bleeding (hematoma)
  • Damage to deeper structures such as nerves, blood vessels, and muscles may occur and be temporary or permanent
  • Infection
  • Irregular healing of scars including contracture (puckering or pulling together of tissues)
  • Poor healing of incisions
  • Possibility of revisional surgery
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