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Velopharyngeal dysfunction occurs when the mouth and nasal cavity are not separated appropriately during speech production. This condition is often associated with cleft palate, but sometimes it is present in children with no history of a cleft.
Correct velopharyngeal function is necessary in order to speak and swallow properly. The soft portion of the roof of the mouth (soft palate or velum) needs to make contact with the back wall of the throat (pharynx) to separate the mouth from the nose.
Velopharyngeal dysfunction can be the result of a structural problem, or it can be a learned or functional issue.
Symptoms of velopharyngeal dysfunction include:
Children with cleft palates should see a cleft and craniofacial team on an annual basis to be monitored for the possible development of velopharyngeal dysfunction throughout different life stages, including adenoid shrinkage, jaw growth and any orthodontia or oral surgery. However, the critical diagnosis period is usually around age 4.
Cleft and craniofacial specialists diagnose velopharyngeal dysfunction through:
Treatment for velopharyngeal dysfunction is determined following an evaluation by a specially trained speech pathologist who can differentiate what roles speech therapy and/or surgery play in treatment. Treatment may include:
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