Cleft palate and cleft lip are facial and oral abnormalities that occur while the child is still developing in the womb. Clefting occurs when there is not sufficient tissue in the mouth or lip, causing the tissue that is there to fail to join together properly.
Frequently Asked Questions About Cleft Lip and Palate
- What do a cleft lip and cleft palate look like?
A cleft lip is a split between the two sides of the upper lip. It appears as a narrow gap in the skin. The separation sometimes extends beyond the base of the nose and involves the bones of the upper jaw or gum. A cleft palate is an opening in the roof of the mouth. It can include the hard palate and/or the soft palate. Because the lip and palate develop separately from one another, a child can be born with a cleft lip but not a cleft palate or vice versa.
- Who develops cleft palate and cleft lip?
The Centers for Disease Control estimate that in the United States each year about 2,650 babies are born with a cleft palate and 4,440 babies are born with a cleft lip with or without a cleft palate. Cleft lip is the fourth most common birth defect in the U.S. and occurs more often in children of Latino, Asian, or Native American descent.
- What causes a cleft lip and cleft palate?
Ultimately, the cause of clefting is unknown and at this time they cannot be prevented. Many scientists believe that clefts are a result of a combination of environmental and genetic factors. Some say that certain medications taken during pregnancy may be related to clefting, including anti-seizure drugs and any medication containing Accutane or methotrexate.
- What problems are associated with cleft lip and cleft palate?
- Problems eating: The separation or opening in the palate can cause food and liquids to pass from the mouth through the nose. However, specially designed baby bottles are available to keep fluids flowing downward toward the stomach. Some children wear an artificial palate to help them eat properly.
- Ear infections and hearing loss: Cleft palate can increase the risk of ear infections because these children are more prone to fluid build-up. To prevent hearing loss as a result of ear infections, some children need special tubes to be inserted in the eardrums to help with fluid drainage.
- Speech impediments: Some children with cleft lip or cleft palate have trouble speaking. Often their voices do not carry well, they may be difficult to understand, or they suffer from hypernasal speech.
- How is cleft lip and cleft palate repaired?
Cleft lip often requires either one or two surgeries. Surgery is recommended within the first few months of a child?s life, usually performed around three months of age. Surgery for cleft palate requires multiple surgeries over a period of 18 years, the first of which should occur between six and 12 months of age.
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