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What is Cleft Lip & Palate?

Around one in 700 babies are born with a cleft around the world.

In early pregnancy, different parts of a baby’s face develop separately and then join together. If some parts do not join properly, the baby is born with a cleft.

A cleft lip and/or palate is the most common craniofacial abnormality (a problem to do with the skull and face) which babies can be born with.

Cleft Lip

A cleft lip can range from a little notch in the coloured part of the lip to a complete separation of the upper lip which can extend up and into the nose. This can affect one side of the mouth (unilateral) or both sides (bilateral), and can be complete (meaning the cleft goes up into the nose) or incomplete.

A cleft lip can also affect the gum where the teeth come through. Again, this can range from a small notch to a complete separation of the gum into two parts.

Sometimes a baby with a cleft palate may have a small lower jaw (mandible) and a few babies with this combination may have difficulties with breathing. This condition may be identified as Pierre Robin Sequence.

No one knows exactly what causes a cleft. Research tells us it’s often caused by a combination of different genetic and environmental factors.

Genetics is all about things inherited from family members, like eye and hair colour. With a cleft, sometimes there is a clear family link, other times it just happens as a ‘one off’.

How is it treated?

Surgery is needed to close the gap left by the cleft. This will usually happen when the child is under a year old.

Every cleft is unique, just like every child, so the exact treatment pathway will vary. It may include further surgery to help with issues such as speech and growth of adult teeth. It may also include speech therapy, help with hearing, orthodontic work, etc.


by Clapa

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