Cleft Lip and Palate

Cleft lip and palate is a condition whereby the upper lip and roof of a baby’s mouth (the palate) do not properly develop in the womb. This occurs when the tissue fails to correctly align, and can lead to a gap forming in the upper lip and gum of a baby’s mouth. This will typically result in one gap developing on the upper lip, but there are also instances in which two gaps can develop below each of the nostrils. A less severe aspect of the condition is when only a small gap develops, known as microform cleft, but this will often appear no more than a slight scar on the upper lip of the mouth.

Cleft lip and palate is a condition that can affect around one in seven hundred babies born each year, and is more typically found in males. Thankfully, this is a medical condition that can often be put right easily through the use of surgery. This can be done in a very short time soon after the birth defect is identified. However, when such a birth defect is identified it is best to seek the assistance of a doctor. This is due to cleft lip and palate sometimes being related to other birth defects more severe in nature that may not be so easily identifiable.

What exactly is cleft lip and palate?

Cleft lip and palate is a birth defect that affects the development of babies in the womb. More specifically, it is a condition that develops when the upper lip of a baby, which begins to develop at about five weeks old, and the roof of the mouth (the palate), which begins to develop at about twelve weeks old, fail to properly join together. This results in a gap forming on the upper lip and gum of a baby. The severity of this condition will vary for every child.

There are a few different forms of this condition:

  • Unilateral cleft lip - This is the most typical form of the condition. This is when a single gap develops on the upper lip and gum of a child.
  • Bilateral cleft lip - It is sometimes the case that two gaps form on the upper lip and gum of the child. These will typically be underneath each of the nostrils.
  • Other types - In some cases it will be both the cleft lip and the palate that are affected, while in other cases it will be either of the two. Conditions only affecting the palate are the least common.

Other birth defects related to cleft lip and palate

Cleft lip and palate is a condition that can often easily be remedied through surgery. This will usually be done within a short time after given birth, though there will still be the need to help your child develop their speech skills and such. However, there is evidence to suggest cleft lip and palate is related to other birth defects. It is therefore advised that you seek medical testing for other birth defects to ensure that there are no underlying conditions affecting your baby. This can be done by contacting your local GP.

Other birth defects related to cleft lip and palate include:

  • Heart defects - A heart defect can be identified at birth but in other cases it can take time for the symptoms to become apparent. There are different types of heart defects, including ‘holes in the heart’, which is a condition where the flow of blood around the heart is affected.
  • Muscle weakness - Certain birth defects can affect the growth of muscle. This can lead to a weakness where the muscle has underdeveloped, and may put a person at risk when undertaking physical exercises that place strain on the muscle. There are also other birth defects related to cleft lip and palate that can affect the growth of limbs.
  • Learning difficulty - A learning difficulty can become apparent as a child tries to overcome their defect, whether they have had surgery to correct the defect or not. This is due to the way such a condition affects the lips, which are so vital to speech. This can make it difficult for a child to keep up with other children and can see them falling behind if proper attention and support if not offered.

The cause of cleft lip and cleft palate formation can be genetic in nature. Environmental influences (eg. certain drugs) may also cause, or interact with genetics, to produce orofacial clefting.

If a person is born with a cleft, the chances of that person having a child with a cleft, given no other obvious factor, rises to 1 in 14 (instead of 1 in 700). Research continues to investigate the extent to which Folic acid can reduce the incidence of clefting.

Clefting seems to be at least in part related to ethnicity, occurring most often among Asians, Latinos and Native Americans (1 in 500), next most often among persons of European ethnicity (1 in 700) and least often among persons of African ethnicity (1 in 1000).

In some cases, cleft palate is one feature of a genetic disorder/syndrome.

Cleft Lip and Palate Guide:

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