What Causes a Cleft Lip and Palate?

What Causes a Cleft Lip and Palate?

A cleft lip occurs when a gap develops in the upper lip during fetal development. When the opening extends into the roof of the mouth, the condition is referred to as a cleft palate. A cleft can occur on one side of the mouth (unilateral) or both sides of the mouth (bilateral).

Cleft lip or palate arises because the facial structures form separately in the earlier stages of development during a pregnancy. Those structures are then supposed to fuse together as facial development progresses, but that does not always occur. In fact, approximately one in 700 babies is born with a cleft lip and palate.

The causes for these conditions can vary. Often, a combination of genetic and environmental factors are involved. If a mother takes certain medications during pregnancy, the baby’s risk of cleft lip or palate may be higher. Sometimes, the cause is unknown.

Cleft lip and palate can have serious consequences for patients’ well-being if they are not repaired. Nutrition and speech is adversely affected. Fortunately, the conditions may be diagnosed through ultrasound imaging during pregnancy, allowing for parents to begin a treatment plan. Cleft lip and palate can be treated effectively with oral surgery.

The intervention for cleft lip or palate may involve multiple procedures, which are performed by an oral surgeon.

The timing of the procedure depends of the severity of the cleft. A cleft lip may be repaired within a matter of weeks, while a cleft palate surgery may not take place until the child is between 7 and 18 months old.

In the developed world, the oral surgery to repair a cleft lip or palate is performed as a matter of course for nearly all infants. However, in poorer countries, access to this procedure is limited and the cleft remains present in many people well into adulthood.

Smile Train is a charitable organization that partners with oral surgeons to provide free cleft and lip palate repair procedures to people who could not otherwise afford them. The organization has provided nearly a million cleft lip or palate repair procedures to date.

Cleft palate is a serious condition, but it can be addressed early in a child’s life. If you have a baby who was born with a cleft palate, consult with one of our skilled oral surgeons to learn more about the procedures involved. Contact any of our four convenient locations to schedule your visit.