Cleft Lip and Cleft Palate affect one out of 700 babies. It is in fact, the fourth most common birth defect in the United States. Higher rates of this condition have been found among children of Asian, Latin, and Native American descent. Cleft lip and cleft palate are some birth defects that occur early in the pregnancy during the time when the baby is still developing inside the womb. They are facial and oral malformations that occur when there is not enough tissue in the lip and mouth to join them together properly.
- Cleft Lip
Cleft lip refers to the split of the upper lip into two sides. There would be a narrow gap in the upper lip skin, usually extending from the base of the nose. The split can also involve the bones of the upper gum or jaw.
- Cleft Palate
Cleft palate is a split in the roof of the mouth. It can involve either the soft palate or the hard palate. The soft palate is the soft back part of the roof of the mouth while the hard palate is the bony front portion also located on the roof of the mouth.
Both these conditions can occur on one or both sides of the mouth. Since the palate and lip develop separately, it sometimes happens that a person has a cleft lip without the cleft palate or vice versa. But it’s also possible to have both of these conditions.
The cause of these birth defects is not known. They also cannot be prevented. Many experts believe that the clefts are brought about by genetic and environmental factors. Children who have family members with the same problem are more prone to this birth defect than those who do not.
It is also believed that some drugs may cause these conditions.
Examples of such are:
- anti-seizure/anticonvulsant medications
- acne medications that contain Accutane
- methotrexate, which is a drug commonly prescribed for treatment of cancer, psoriasis and arthritis
Moreover, these conditions may also arise due to exposure to certain chemicals or viruses while the fetus is still in the developmental stage inside the womb.
Prenatal ultrasound can sometimes detect if an unborn baby has a cleft lip. If this is not detected, physical examination of the mouth, nose, and palate after the child is born can help determine the presence of these conditions. Diagnostic tests may also be conducted to rule out other abnormalities.
Both the cleft lip and cleft palate can result in various problems.
First, there are the eating problems:
- Since there is an opening in the palate, the food and liquids that a person takes in can run through the nose.
- Children with cleft palate need to wear a man-made palate to eat properly.
- Parents should use specially designed baby bottles for babies with these problems.
Other problems associated with these conditions are:
- ear infections
- hearing loss
- speech problems
- dental problems
Surgery may be required to treat and repair this abnormality.