About Cleft Lips & Cleft Palates

The word "cleft" means opening or gap, so a cleft lip is an opening in the mouth, and a cleft palate is an opening in the roof of the mouth. Clefts of the lip and palate can occur separately or together: this means that a child can have a cleft lip, a cleft palate, or both a cleft lip and cleft palate. When a cleft is only on one side of the lip, it's called a unilateral cleft lip. When a cleft is on both sides of the lip, it's called a bilateral cleft lip.

Unilateral Cleft Lip

Unilateral Cleft Lip- Before

Unilateral Cleft Lip- After

Bilateral Cleft Lip

Bilateral Cleft Lip- Before

Bilateral Cleft Lip- After

Causes of Cleft Lips & Cleft Palates

Clefts occur when the left and right sides of the lip and palate don't join together during the first few months of pregnancy. Cleft lips and palates, which are often caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors, affect 1 in 700 newborns each year. 

Issues Caused by Cleft Lips & Cleft Palates

Ear disease and dental problems occur frequently, as do problems with proper speech development. Children who suffer from a cleft lip and/or palate may have difficulty eating. To address these issues, a child and family may work with a team of specialists – a pediatrician, a plastic surgeon, dental specialists, an ear, nose and throat specialist (otolaryngologist), a speech-language pathologist and audiologist, a geneticist and a psychologist/social worker.

Treating Cleft Lips and Cleft Palates

A cleft lip or palate can be successfully corrected with surgery and orthodontic treatment. A pediatrician and a plastic surgeon work with a child's parents to choose the best timing for surgery. Most surgeons agree that a baby cleft lip should be repaired by 3 months old. To repair the partition of mouth and nose as early as possible, a cleft palate generally is repaired between the ages of 12 and 18 months. Any surgical procedure is dependent upon a child's general health and the nature of the cleft lip or cleft palate.

Children with clefts usually continue to receive treatment after surgery, including dental care and speech therapy.

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