Cleft lip and palate are birth defects that affect the upper lip and the roof of the mouth. A cleft is a gap in a body structure that results from incomplete closing of a specific structure during development. Some babies have only a cleft lip. However, many babies with cleft lip have a cleft palate as well.


There are many causes for cleft lip and palate. Genetics, drugs, viruses, or other toxins can all cause such birth defects. Cleft lip and palate may occur along with other syndromes or birth defects such as Waardenburg, Pierre Robin, and Down syndromes. About 1 out of 2,500 people have a cleft palate.


A child may have one or more of these conditions at birth. A cleft lip may be just a small notch in the lip. It may also be a complete split in the lip that goes all the way to the base of the nose. A cleft palate can be on one or both sides of the roof of the mouth. It may go the full length of the palate.

Problems that may be present because of a cleft lip or palate are: 
Failure to gain weight/ poor growth due to feeding problems
Flow of milk through nasal passages during feeding
Misaligned teeth
Recurrent ear infections
Speech difficulties
Change in nose shape (amount of distortion varies)

Signs and Testing:

A physical examination of the mouth, nose, and palate confirms a cleft lip or cleft palate. Medical tests may be done to rule out other possible health conditions. A child with cleft lip or palate is often referred to a multidisciplinary team of experts for treatment. The team may include: an otolaryngologist (ear, nose, and throat specialist), plastic surgeon, oral surgeon, speech pathologist, pediatric dentist, orthodontist, audiologist, geneticist, pediatrician, nutritionist, psychologist and social worker.


Surgery to close the cleft lip is often done when the child is between 6 weeks and 12 months old. Surgery may be needed later in life if the problem severely affects the nose area. The surgical procedure is called palatoplasty.
A cleft palate is usually closed within the first year of life so that the child's speech normally develops. Sometimes a prosthetic device is temporarily used to close the palate so the baby can feed and grow until surgery can be done.

Cleft Lip and Palate. (2009, May). Cleft Lip and Palate. Retrieved June 20, 2011 from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/?term=Cleft%20lip%20and%20palate

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