Dulce Maria’s Words

I got a chance today to chat with Dr. Bill and find out the story behind this picture taken during assessments.


Her name is Dulce Maria. She came to the clinic last year at the age of 9. She didn’t have a cleft, but her soft palate was very weak, which made speaking difficult. Her palate didn’t make a complete seal with her throat, allowing air to escape through her nose. It is possible through surgery to fix it, but due to some problems with her heart, it would have been too high a risk. So they sent her to the dentists.

They tried making a prosthesis, but her young teeth were too short to hold it in place. Their last hope was speech therapy.

Dr. Bill, along with our wonderful translator, Paco, spent several evenings during last year’s trip working with Dulce Maria on her letter sounds. Sounds like “P” and “B” require air to press against the lips, but in Dulce Maria’s case, that air escaped out her nose, giving the word a very nasal, breathy effect. At the end of their time at the hospital, they sent her home with important instructions – don’t stop practicing! Dr. Bill said he was hopeful due in large part to her very supportive family. Here she is with her sister, who doesn’t seem to ever leave her side.

Dulce Maria and her sister during assessments.

Dulce Maria and her sister during assessments.

So let’s go back to their reunion a few days ago. Dr. Bill said he was so excited that she had come back this year, but nervous to see if she had maintained last year’s progress.

“Como estas, Dulce Maria?” he asked her as they hugged.

“Bien,” she replied. But it wasn’t the breathy “Bien” of last year, but a clear “B” with air pressed out her lips with precision.

She had not retreated into old habits, but continued their therapy throughout the year.

This year, she’s back to work. The dentists are attempting a prosthesis again but suspect it likely won’t be effective until she’s around 15. So Dulce Maria comes to the hospital after school each day to continue to grow her speech skills and confidence.

And Dr. Bill says, with the progress she’s making, she may not need a prosthesis at all.

Dr. Bill with Dulce Maria during a speech therapy session.

Dr. Bill with Dulce Maria during a speech therapy session.

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  • Meet the Dentists | Iowa MOST: Miles of Smiles Team

    […] The prosthetic looks like a retainer, but the goal is not to keep teeth straight.  These retainers help to cover the holes in their palates, allowing a patient to eat and drink without food and liquid getting up into their nose. It can also help them with speech problems.  Click here for Dulce’s strides with speech therapy. […]

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