Although there is an established relationship between cleft lip and overt cleft palate, the relationship between isolated cleft lip and submucous cleft palate has not been investigated. To test the hypothesis that patients with isolated cleft lip have a greater association with submucous cleft palate, a double-armed prospective trial was designed. A study group of 25 consecutive children presenting with an isolated cleft lip, with or without extension through the alveolus but not involving the secondary palate, was compared with a control group of 25 children with no known facial clefts. Eligible patients were examined for the presence of physical criteria associated with classic submucous cleft palate, namely, (1) bifid uvula, (2) absence of the posterior nasal spine, and (3) zona pellucida. Nasoendoscopy was subsequently performed just after induction of general anesthesia, and the findings were correlated with digital palpation of the palatal muscles. Patients who did not satisfy all three physical criteria and in whom nasoendoscopy was distinctly abnormal relative to the control group were classified as having occult submucous cleft palate. Classic submucous cleft palate was found in three study group patients (12 percent), all of whom had flattening or a midline depression of the posterior palate and musculus uvulae on nasoendoscopy and palpable diastasis of the palatal muscles under general anesthesia. An additional six study group patients (24 percent) had similar nasoendoscopic criteria and palpable diastasis of the palatal muscles; they were classified as having occult submucous cleft palate. No submucous cleft palate was identified in the control group. Seventeen patients in the study group had an alveolar cleft with a 53 percent (9 of 17) prevalence of submucous cleft palate. In the present study, classic submucous cleft palate in association with isolated cleft lip was 150 to 600 times the reported prevalence in the general population. All children with an isolated cleft lip should undergo peroral examination and speech/resonance assessment no later than the age of 3 years. Any child with an isolated cleft lip with velopharyngeal inadequacy or before an adenoidectomy should be assessed by flexible nasal endoscopy to avoid missing an occult submucous cleft palate.
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