Cleft Lip and Cleft Palate

What is a cleft lip and cleft palate?

A cleft lip creates an opening in the upper lip between the mouth and the nose and a cleft palate occurs when the two sides of a palate do not join together – this leaves an opening in the roof of the mouth. A cleft lip and palate can occur on one or both sides of the mouth. It is possible for a baby to be born with just a cleft lip or a cleft lip and a cleft palate or only a cleft palate.


Unilateral Cleft Lip


Bilateral Cleft Lip


Cleft Palate

What causes cleft lip and cleft palate?

An exact cause has not been determined. Clefting is a congenital defect that occurs early in embryonic growth. It is believed that a combination of genetic and environmental factors, such as maternal illness, drugs, interbreeding and malnutrition, may lead to a baby being born with a cleft. Researchers report that a family history of facial clefts is present in approximately 40 percent of all cases.

Can a cleft lip or a cleft palate be prevented?

Methods are being researched to prevent cleft lip and cleft palates. Some research suggests that taking multivitamins that include folic acid before conception and during the first two months of pregnancy may reduce the risk of a baby being born with a cleft.

How often are babies born with a cleft lip or cleft palate?

In the US a cleft lip and/or a cleft palate occurs in about 1 in every 700 births. In developing countries such as Ecuador the rate of clefting is estimated to be as high as 1 in every 350 births. The exact rate varies among different geographic areas and ethnic groups.

Is a cleft lip or a cleft palate strictly a cosmetic deformity?

No, people who suffer from a cleft lip or a cleft palate often have a difficult time eating. In developing nations this often causes issues with proper nutrition. Babies are often malnourished because they find it difficult to nurse. In the US patients work with specialists to help them adapt until their cleft can be repaired. People with clefts often develop dental problems as well as ear disease. It is also common to have problems with proper speech development. To address these issues families in developed nations will often work with a team of specialists that will likely include a pediatrician, dentist, plastic surgeon, otolaryngologist, speech therapist, social worker and a geneticist.

What can be done to repair a cleft lip or cleft palate?

Thankfully, a lot can be done. Reconstructive surgery provides excellent results. Cleft lip surgery is usually performed when a baby is 3-4 months old. Cleft lip often only requires one reconstructive surgery, especially in the case of a unilateral cleft lip. Bilateral cleft lips are usually repaired with two surgeries. Cleft palate can require several surgeries over the course of the child’s first 18 years. The first surgery usually occurs when the baby is between 6 and 12 months old. This surgery involves palatal lengthening and drawing tissue from the side of the mouth to rebuild the palate. The necessity for more surgery will depend upon the severity of the cleft.


Before surgery


Just two days after surgery