Cleft Palate and Cleft Lip: What You Should Know

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Update Date 01/08/2020 . 4 mins read
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Are you wondering about the types of cleft palate and cleft lips and how you can treat them? Here is a quick look at everything you should know.

What Are Cleft Palates and Cleft Lips?

Cleft palates and cleft lips are oral and facial malformations. They are splits or openings in the top of the mouth (the roof), in the upper lip, or both. These happen when the developing baby’s facial structures do not fully close in the womb.

Cleft palates and cleft lips are common birth defects and normally happen very early in pregnancy. This is often an isolated birth defect. However, they can also be associated with many other inherited genetic syndromes or conditions.

Types of Cleft Palate and Cleft Lip

There are various types of cleft palate and cleft lips. Here is a quick summary of what each kind looks like.

Cleft Lips

  • Complete bilateral cleft lip
  • Clefts on each side of the upper lip that extend into the nose
  • Incomplete bilateral cleft lip
  • Clefs on each side of the upper lip that does not extend into the nose
  • Incomplete unilateral cleft lip
  • A cleft that is on a single side of your upper lip that does not extend into the nose
  • Forme fruste unilateral cleft lip
  • Subtle cleft on a single side of your upper lip that may look like a small indentation

Cleft Palates

  • Complete cleft palate
  • Cleft that affects the soft and hard parts of your palate. The nose and mouth cavities are exposed to one another
  • Incomplete cleft palate
  • A cleft in your soft palate in the back part of your mouth
  • Submucous cleft palate (SMCP)
  • A cleft that is in the soft and/or hard palate that is covered by your mouth’s mucous membrane lining. It may be hard to visualize.

What Causes Cleft Palates and Cleft Lips?

There is no known, exact cause for the different types of cleft palate and cleft lip. Researchers think that they occur because of interactions of environmental and genetic factors. Some examples that could increase a baby’s chance of developing a cleft palate or cleft lip may include:

  • Women who smoke while pregnant have a higher chance of their baby having an orofacial cleft compared to non-smoking pregnant women.
  • Women who get diagnosed with diabetes before pregnancy have a higher chance of their baby being born without a cleft palate or with a cleft lip.
  • Pregnant women who take medication for epilepsy have a higher chance of their baby having a malformation.
  • Overweight/obese pregnant women have a higher chance of their baby having an orofacial defect
  • If the parents have a family history of a cleft palate or cleft lip, there is a higher chance that their baby could have a cleft.

Symptoms of Cleft Palates and Cleft Lips?

Children with a cleft lip or cleft palate may experience some of the accompanying symptoms like:

  • Chronic ear infections
  • Nasal speaking voice
  • Difficulty swallowing and may experience foods or liquids exiting the nose
  • Having a hard time with feedings

Complications of Cleft Palates and Cleft Lips?

The complications of the cleft lip and palate may depend on the severity and type of the cleft condition. Some complications may include:

  • Potential behavioral, emotional, and social problems because of the stress from intensive medical care or difference in appearance
  • Speech difficulties, often sounding too nasal
  • Affected tooth development if a cleft extends through your upper gums
  • Hearing loss and ear infections, particularly in babies with a cleft palate
  • Difficulty in feeding because babies may find it hard to breast or bottle-feed

Treatment for Cleft Palates and Cleft Lips

Surgery may be needed as part of the treatment for a cleft palate and cleft lip. Additionally, therapies may be suggested to improve related conditions.

The type of surgery will depend on the specific case of a child. A doctor may also perform follow-up surgeries to improve the way the nose and lip look and to improve speech.

Most surgeries occur in the following order:

  • Cleft lip repair at 3-6 months old
  • Cleft palate repair by 12 months old or earlier
  • Follow-up procedures from the age of 2 to the late teen years

Your child may be given an anesthetic before surgery. Several different surgical procedures and techniques may be performed to

  • Repair the defect
  • Reconstruct affected areas
  • Treat or prevent related complications

Some procedures can include:

  • Surgery to reconstruct the appearance
  • Ear tube surgery
  • Cleft palate repair
  • Cleft lip repair

However, there are potential risks to the surgery that you should also know, which may include:

  • Temporary/permanent damage to blood vessels, nerves, or other structures
  • Elevation or widening of scars
  • Poor healing
  • Infections
  • Bleeding

Can You Prevent Cleft Palates and Cleft Lips

While there is no sure-fire way to prevent a cleft if you want to have a baby in the future, there are a few things you may try to decrease your chances. Some things you may do include:

  • Avoiding alcohol and tobacco use during pregnancy
  • Getting prenatal vitamins. It would be best to consult a doctor regarding nutrition and supplementing vitamins
  • Genetic counseling

When to See a Doctor for Cleft Palates and Cleft Lips

If your baby has a cleft palate or lip, it would be ideal to get proper treatment for them immediately. Ask your doctor about the best options for your child. They can provide you with more information and offer a more comprehensive plan to address your child’s needs.

Key Takeaways

Learning about the types of cleft palate and the cleft lip can better help you understand the condition. If your child has a cleft lip and/or cleft palate, seek medical attention. Treating the condition early can significantly enhance your child’s health, quality of life, appearance, and ability to talk, breathe, and eat.

Learn more about Oral Health here.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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