Cleft lip and cleft palate are among the most common birth defects seen in newborns today. While it can cause some degree of discomfort and inconvenience, with early diagnosis and treatment, many cases of cleft lip and cleft palate can be corrected successfully. In this blog post, we explore the causes, symptoms, diagnosis procedures and treatments for these conditions – along with providing useful tips on how to cope when you or your child is born with a cleft.
How Common are They?
Every year in the United States, approximately 4,440 infants are born with cleft lip and 2,650 with cleft palate. These orofacial clefts can be a cause of concern for parents, but with the right treatment, affected babies can lead normal lives.
Cleft Lip and Cleft Palate Defined
Cleft lip and cleft palate are birth defects that occur when the mouth or lip of an infant does not form properly during fetal development. They can occur during different stages of pregnancy and vary in size and severity. Cleft lip can involve a small slit or a large opening that runs from the nose to the lip, while cleft palate can be a result of insufficient tissue in the lip or mouth area.
Causes of Cleft Lip and Cleft Palate
The exact cause of these birth defects is unknown in most cases, but research suggests a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Some children inherit cleft lip or palate due to a genetic condition, while exposure to cigarette smoke, certain medications, chemicals, and vitamin deficiencies during pregnancy can also play a role.
If left untreated, cleft lip and cleft palate can lead to dental issues, hearing loss, feeding difficulties, and speech problems, including:
- Dental malformation. Children that have cleft lip or palate tend to have dental abnormalities. For example, these might include malpositioned teeth, missing teeth, small teeth, or extra teeth. Clefting can also adversely affect the gums, the supporting bone of the teeth, or the alveolar ridge. Alveolar ridge defects can pose a problem in the eruption of permanent teeth. It can rotate, tip, or displace permanent teeth.
- Loss of Hearing. Congenital cleft palate tends to damage the Eustachian tube in the middle ear. In turn, this makes those affected more susceptible to ear fluid buildup and ear infections. Unfortunately, hearing loss is one of the effects of this eardrum malfunction. The placement of small PE or pressure equalization tubes helps improve hearing by draining the accumulated fluid.
- Feeding difficulty. Feeding can be a big challenge for babies with clefting. The palate serves as a barrier preventing liquid and food from penetrating the nose. To feed, an infant with an untreated cleft palate necessitates the proper positioning of the bottle with a specialized nipple.
- Speech problem. After a palatoplasty or the repair of a cleft palate, 15 to 20 percent of children may have speech difficulty. This is commonly a result of the disruption of sound quality due to hypernasality. This occurs with the incomplete closure of the palate that segregates the mouth from the nose.
Cleft lip can often be diagnosed through ultrasound before birth, while cleft palate may not be visible until after childbirth. Treatment and management of these conditions depend on their severity and may involve a team of oral surgeons, orthodontists, plastic surgeons, dentists, and ear, nose, and throat doctors.
In conclusion, cleft lip and cleft palate are common birth defects that can be successfully treated with early intervention. By understanding the causes, symptoms, and treatment options, individuals and families can better cope with these conditions and provide the necessary care for optimal health and well-being.