The goals of cleft palate repair are well-established; however, there does exist difference in practice patterns regarding the most appropriate patient age for palatoplasty. The optimal timing is debated and influenced by cleft type, surgical technique, and the surgeon's training. The objective of this study was to compare the rates of post-operative fistula formation and velopharyngeal insufficiency (VPI) in “early” versus “standard” cleft palate repair in a cohort of patients treated at a single craniofacial center.
A retrospective chart review identified 525 patients treated for cleft palate from 2000 to 2017 with 216 meeting inclusion criteria. “Early repair” is defined as palatoplasty before 6-months of age (108 patients). “Standard repair” is palatoplasty at or beyond 6-months old (108 patients). Rates of fistula formation were found to be significantly higher in early repairs (Chi-square statistic 9.0536, P value = 0.0026). Development of VPI was not significantly different between the 2 groups (Chi-square statistic 1.2068, P value = 0.27196). As expected, the incidence of post-palatoplasty VPI was significantly higher in patients who had a post-operative fistula when compared to those who healed without fistula formation (Chi-square statistic 4.3627, P value = 0.0367).
There is significant debate regarding the optimal timing of cleft repair to maximize speech outcomes and minimize risks. The authors’ data show that post-operative fistula formation occurs at a higher rate when performed prior to 6 months old. Furthermore, while the rate of VPI was not significantly affected by age at time of surgery, it was significantly higher in those who experienced a post-operative fistula.