© Borgis - New Medicine 1/2001, s. 33-35
Early vs. late cleft palate closure in the light of normal speech development
Department of Paediatric and Adolescent Surgery National Research Institute for Mother and Child, Warsaw, Poland Centre for Craniofacial Disorders
Head: Associate Professor Zofia Dutkiewicz, M.D.
The author presents the different points of view on timing of soft and hard palate closure in cleft palate patients in the light of speech development.
Although debated for decades, the issue of when to perform a primary closure of the cleft palate is still highly controversial. Every theory continues to have an equal number of advocates and adversaries, each of whom quote arrays of arguments to support their positions. Those who favour late operations, when the child is more than one year old, have always been traditionally supported by orthodontists, who invariably claim that early surgical closure of the cleft palate negatively affects maxilla development, which in turn exerts an adverse effect on the esthetic appearance of the face (both en face and in profile), and the maxillary-occlusive relationship. The advocates of late surgery cite numerous examples of hypoplastic, narrow, collapsed maxillas resulting in protruding mandibles, especially when seen in profile, in consequence of pseudoprognathism. As late as 1948, in his classic report Grubber described in detail and in a large series of patients the negative effect of surgical interventions on maxillary growth (3, 10, 13).
This has been always associated with highly traumatic surgical techniques, affecting both the bones and soft tissues, such as the still relatively commonly employed classic Langenbeck´s procedure, with its extensive delamination of mucoperiosteal flap´s in the hard palate. In his comprehensive monograph of 1987 on the effect of surgery on craniofacial growth in unilateral cleft lip and palate, Ross quotes Grubber and ascribes this negative effect rather to the inhibition triggered by scar tissue formed at the surgical site, and especially at the region of the pterygoid tuberosity, than to any immediate effect exerted on the bone itself (13).
Modern methods of palatoplasty, such as those proposed by Malek, Kobus and Dudkiewicz, allow for the avoidance of maxillary growth disorders resulting from extensive soft tissue damage and secondary circulatory disturbances (5). It is thanks to the introduction of these new and less traumatic surgical techniques that when timing the surgery of the palate, the viewpoint of speech pathologists, such as phoniatrists and logopedists, is taken into consideration more and more often, although it is still a slow and difficult process.
Over past decades it has been definitely established that the most important period for speech commences immediately after birth, and not - as was previously believed - in the third year of life, when a normally developing child experiences the „speech explosion ”. As stated by Chapman (2) and Trichet (9), early attempts at vocalization in the second and third month of life are different in cleft palate children than in infants without the defect. Chapman refers to the fact that in this earliest period, called by Trichet (after Koopmans van Beinum and Stelt) the period of acquiring prelinguistic functions, the child substitutes a back sound „g ” for all non-nasal consonants. According to Trichet, a child with cleft palate is unable to articulate properly even a clear „g ” due to the lack of palatopharyngeal closure. Thus, his speech is limited to glottal stops and nasal sounds. When six months old, a child without the defect starts to produce his first frontal consonants, while a child with cleft palate is still limited to the above speech sounds.
In order to ensure proper development of the phonological system, the child with cleft palate should thus be operated on as early as possible, before compensatory articulations and backing become incorporated in the speech system. If this happens, they become extremely difficult, or even impossible, to eliminate, even when a speech therapeutist devotes a lot of work to such a child. In order to allow normal kinaesthetic patterns to operate, normal anatomical conditions within the hard and soft palate should be reconstructed as soon as possible.
The opinion favoured by advocates of the so-called two-stage palate closure should be argued. They attach importance solely to early soft palate closure, before the child is two years old, in order to create a normal palatopharyngeal stop. The closure of the hard palate is delayed - for example by the German or Czech school - until the fifth or sixth year of life, or even later. No plastic palatal plate or obturator is capable of giving the tongue a substitute for contact with living tissue, a palate (including the hard palate) that has been reconstructed as early and as well as possible. Just as the soft palate is necessary for creating adequate pressure in the oral cavity and for producing back sounds, the hard palate is indispensable for alveolar and palatal consonants.
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