Cleft lip and palate occur when the lip or roof of the mouth do not form completely. A cleft can occur in the lip, palate, or both, and it can be unilateral (one side) or bilateral (both sides). It is the most common birth defect in the U.S.A., affecting 1 in 700 births. The lip and palate form between the 5th and 12th week of pregnancy, and a cleft occurs when areas that merge to form the face do not come together completely.
Most often there is no family history or known reason why a cleft happens. Smoking, diabetes, and certain medications can increase the chances of clefting, and clefts can be hereditary. Clefts are also associated with syndromes such as Velo-cardio-facial, Crouzon’s, Apert’s, Treacher Collins, and Pierre Robin sequence.
Treatment for cleft lip and palate includes surgical closure of the cleft, as well as speech therapy, frequent ear checks, and orthodontics. Although clefts are usually a surprise to new parents, they can be treated, resulting in little more than a scar. It is important to find a Team whose expertise is with clefts and who can guide family through the unique needs of children with cleft lip and palate.