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Cleft lip and cleft palate are the most common birth defects affecting the face. Cleft lip is a separation of the lip, and cleft palate is an opening in the roof of the mouth. Approximately 1 in 600 newborns in the United States has cleft lip and/or cleft palate.
Cleft lip and cleft palate each have specific symptoms.
In cleft lip, the cleft can be a small notch in the lip or a complete separation of not only the lip but also the gumline (alveolar ridge) and the floor of the nose. A cleft can affect one or both sides of the lip. Some children with cleft lip also have a nasal (related to the nose) deformity.
Like cleft lip, cleft palate varies in how it affects children. A cleft palate is an opening in the roof of the mouth that occurs when the two sides of the palate do not join together before birth. In some cases, the cleft involves only the uvula (the small U-shaped portion of the back of the palate that hangs down into the throat). In other cases, the cleft extends the entire length of the palate from the uvula to the gumline.
The causes of cleft lip and palate are not well understood. Most cases are spontaneous, meaning there is no known cause. Studies suggest that in some cases genetics may be involved along with environmental factors such as drugs, infections, maternal illness, maternal alcohol use and, possibly, deficiency of the B vitamin folic acid. In some cases, there can be a family history of cleft lip and palate
Cleft lip and cleft palate can cause problems with:
A cleft lip can often be diagnosed prenatally (before birth) via a routine prenatal ultrasound. It is more difficult to diagnose a cleft palate prenatally due to the palate being less visible in ultrasound imaging.
If your baby receives a prenatal diagnosis of cleft lip and/or cleft palate, it is recommended that you and your family visit an experienced cleft team to discuss the concept of team care, your child’s timeline of care and your child’s medical needs prior to the birth of your baby. The Cleft & Craniofacial Anomalies Program at Riley at IU Health provides this service.
After your baby is born, a cleft lip and/or cleft palate diagnosis will be confirmed through a physical exam.
Treatments for cleft lip and cleft palate and related problems include:
Doctors at Riley at IU Health strive to make the treatment process more efficient for your child and family through a multidisciplinary approach. Once a week, the Cleft & Craniofacial Anomalies Program makes available as many experts as possible—specialists in areas such as plastic surgery, oral surgery, otolaryngology, orthodontics, dentistry, speech pathology, audiology and developmental pediatrics. This reduces the number of times your family must travel to our facilities.
The Cleft & Craniofacial Anomalies Program is one of the largest and most experienced of its kind in the nation. In fact, the program cares for more children with cleft lip and/or cleft palate than any other hospital in Indiana. Our experts help set the national standard in cleft lip and palate care, providing comprehensive treatment to improve your child’s function and appearance.
Visit these trusted websites to learn more about cleft lip and cleft palate and find resources and support.
Riley at IU Health offers a broad range of supportive services to make life better for families who choose us for their children's care.
This nonprofit organization exists to serve individuals and families affected by cleft lip and palate and other craniofacial conditions by connecting them to team care, providing education and offering personal support. It is the public service arm of the American Cleft Palate-Craniofacial Association.
This nonprofit organization addresses the medical, financial, psychosocial, emotional and educational concerns related to cleft lip and palate and other craniofacial conditions.
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