Cleft Lip and Cleft Palate

Cleft Palate and Cleft Lip Introduction

Cleft lip and cleft palate are facial and oral malformations that occur very early in pregnancy, while the baby is developing inside its mother. Clefting results when there is not enough tissue in the mouth or lip area, and the tissue that is available does not join together properly.

A cleft lip is a physical split or separation of the two sides of the upper lip and appears as a narrow opening or gap in the skin of the upper lip. This separation often extends beyond the base of the nose and includes the bones of the upper jaw and/or upper gum.

A cleft palate is a split or opening in the roof of the mouth. A cleft palate can involve the hard palate (the bony front portion of the roof of the mouth), and/or the soft palate (the soft back portion of the roof of the mouth).

Cleft lip and cleft palate can occur on one or both sides of the mouth. Because the lip and the palate develop separately, it is possible to have a cleft lip without a cleft palate, a cleft palate without a cleft lip, or both a cleft lip and cleft palate together.

Who Gets Cleft Lip and Cleft Palate?

Cleft lip, with or without cleft palate, affects one in 700 babies annually, and is the fourth most common birth defect in the U.S. Clefts occur more often in children of Asian, Latino, or Native American descent. Compared with girls, twice as many boys have a cleft lip, both with and without a cleft palate. However, compared with boys, twice as many girls have cleft palate without a cleft lip.

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Cleft Lip and Cleft Palate Surgery

A cleft lip may require one or two surgeries depending on the extent of the repair needed. The initial surgery is usually performed by the time a baby is 3 months old.

Repair of a cleft palate often requires multiple surgeries over the course of 18 years. The first surgery to repair the palate usually occurs when the baby is between 6 and 12 months old. The initial surgery creates a functional palate, reduces the chances that fluid will develop in the middle ears, and aids in the proper development of the teeth and facial bones.

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