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About Cleft Lips & Cleft Palates

The word "cleft" means opening or gap, so a cleft lip is an opening in the  mouth, and a cleft palate is an opening in the roof of the mouth.  Cleft lips and palates can occur separately or together: this means that a child can have a cleft lip, a cleft palate, or both a cleft lip and cleft palate.  When a cleft is only on one side, it's called a unilateral cleft lip and/or palate.  When a cleft is on both sides, it's called a bilateral cleft lip and/or palate.

     

LEFT: Unilateral Cleft      RIGHT: Bilateral Cleft

Causes of Cleft Lips & Cleft Palates

Clefts occur when the  left and right sides of the lip and palate don't join together during the first few months of pregnancy.  Cleft lips and palates, which are often caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors, affect 1 in 700 newborns each year. 

Issues Caused by Cleft Lips & Cleft Palates

Ear disease and dental problems occur frequently, as do problems with proper speech development. Children who suffer from a cleft lip and/or palate may have difficulty eating. To address these issues, a child and family may work with a team of specialists – a pediatrician, a plastic surgeon, dental specialists, an ear, nose and throat specialist (otolaryngologist), a speech-language pathologist and audiologist, a geneticist and a psychologist/social worker.

Treating Cleft Lips and Cleft Palates

A cleft lip or palate can be successfully corrected with surgery and presurgical orthopedic treatment.    For more information about treatment, visit our Treatment for Clefts web page.