What is Submucous Cleft Palate?


Several types of cleft palates can form. A cleft palate refers to a split that develops when an unborn baby’s facial tissues fail to fuse together normally. One of these types is the submucous cleft palate. Here’s a look at what that is and its signs and complications, diagnosis, and the treatments available.

What is a Submucous Cleft?

A cleft can be an opening that develops behind the teeth, or it may extend from the base of the nostril, down the lip, and down the palate. A submucous cleft is covered by a mucous membrane, which means it isn’t as easy to see as a cleft palate that is obviously open.

Signs and Complications of a Submucous Cleft

If your doctor hasn’t diagnosed your baby with a cleft palate but you are concerned about the way she is feeding, you might need to make a stop at the pediatrician’s office. Indicators that something might be wrong are if your baby has trouble swallowing, milk tends to come out of her nose, or she seems to be having trouble creating suction on either bottle or nipple. As your baby grows, she may have speech problems, a nasal tone, continued problems swallowing, or middle ear disease.

Diagnosing Submucous Cleft

Submucous clefts are generally identified by a bifid uvula, a thin split that occurs in the uvula at the back of the soft palate or a noticeable notch at the back of the hard palate. Just because these things are not present does not mean a submucous cleft isn’t.

In some instances it may be necessary for your child to have xrays or a nasopharyngoscopy. A nasopharyngoscopy involves sending a small tube up the nose to see the palate. It can take a whole team of doctors and medical care workers to properly diagnose and treat a cleft palate — don’t be afraid to ask questions of your pediatrician before you choose a team.

Treating Submucous Cleft Palate

Not every submucous cleft has to be treated. Some are minor enough that they may not cause issues, while others can interfere drastically with the way the child swallows, even into adulthood. While obviously visible cleft lips and palates are virtually always treated in the United States, the decision to treat submucous clefts is based off problems that are present or likely to be present in the future.

The most common form of cleft palate treatment is surgery. However, if side effects are minor and surgery is likely to be more trouble than it is worth, you and your child may need to work with an ear-nose-and-throat doctor to manage ear issues, and a speech pathologist to control any speech or swallowing problems. In some instances, insertable devices can be used to control speech and swallowing issues. If you are concerned that your child has a submucous cleft palate, talk to his doctor as soon as possible.


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