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What is a Palatoplasty?

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  • Written By: N. Madison
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 05 December 2016
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A palatoplasty is a corrective surgery procedure used for individuals who have a cleft palate, which is a type of birth defect that affects the face. A surgeon performs the procedure to correct an abnormal opening between the patient’s mouth and nose. Closing this opening can help a patient speak, breathe, and swallow normally. The procedure may also facilitate the normal development of other parts of the mouth.

A cleft palate is a birth defect marked by a hole or gap in the top or roof of the patient’s mouth. The extent of a cleft palate can vary from person to person. It can affect a small section of the palate or include an extensive opening. The cleft can even extend into the nose. The presence of a cleft palate makes eating and talking difficult. The condition contributes to frequent ear infections as well.

A patient may have a palatoplasty at any age, but the surgery is usually performed on babies who are between six months to one year old. Children in this age range tend to heal faster and are well suited to the surgery because the tissue in the area is still developing. Performing the surgery at this age may also help prevent speech development issues before they occur.

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During a palatoplasty procedure, a patient is usually given general anesthesia. This ensures the patient will remain asleep for the duration of the surgery. An intravenous tube called an IV line is inserted into the patient’s vein before surgery begins. The tube delivers medicines and liquids while the procedure is taking place as well as during the in-hospital recovery period.

A surgeon works on the patient’s palate by going in through his mouth. He works to attach tissue on both sides of the palate opening, suturing the opening with stitches. If the cleft palate includes the nose, he closes the opening there as well. Typically, the surgery is completed in three hours or less. The patient normally remains in the hospital for a couple of days after the procedure is complete.

The risk of complications with a palatoplasty are like those of other types of surgical procedures. The patient may have a reaction to the anesthesia and medications that are used, develop blood clotting problems, or experience excessive bleeding. There is also the potential for complications specific to this procedure, including airway blockage and irregular healing of the affected tissue. Sometimes additional surgeries are necessary to correct problems created by the first surgery.

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indigomoth
Post 3

I read about a controversy recently where people were getting angry over parents aborting fetuses in the late stages of pregnancy because they discovered the infant had a cleft palate.

Unless the condition is extremely severe, it looks like a palatoplasty pretty much completely fixes a cleft palate, particularly when it's performed on a young child. They might have some problems with speech later on in life but otherwise would be completely healthy.

I'm not against abortion in general. But this drifts dangerously close to a line we don't want to cross, in my opinion, where people abort any fetus who doesn't fit in with their idea of perfection.

irontoenail
Post 2

It is really sad, particularly since it's so easily fixed. And an additional problem is that often in cultures where basic education is not common, people think of a cleft lip and/or cleft palate as something which was brought on by the actions of the mother, or maybe because the child is cursed, or something.

Although it has been shown in studies that mothers who drink alcohol and smoke while pregnant have a higher chance of having a baby with a cleft palate.

I have to say, though, that seems like it would be more of a danger in the developed world than in the developing world.

browncoat
Post 1

People forget that it's possible for kids to be born with a cleft palate, because they are fixed up routinely now in the developed world, and you never see them around.

But in the developing world, it is still a severe problem. Kids with a cleft palate not only face social difficulties, which are bad enough, they can also be severely malnourished, and as it says in the article, prone to infections.

Both of those issues are that much worse when you are already poor and struggling to survive.

I think Doctors Without Borders do a lot of work trying to get these kids the operations they need. I just think it is so sad that something we can easily fix is still a problem in some parts of the world.

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