Make Appointment +6011-2361 0361, +6010-667 2680
Language: EN | BM |

Understanding Cleft Lip and Cleft Palate: A Comprehensive Guide

Understanding Cleft Lip
Cleft lip is a congenital condition that develops between the fourth and seventh weeks of pregnancy. As an embryo grows, tissues and specialized cells from both sides of the head converge at the center to form the facial structure, including the lips and mouth. A cleft lip occurs when the tissue responsible for forming the lip fails to fully connect prior to birth, resulting in a gap in the upper lip. This gap can range from a small split to a significant opening extending into the nose. The cleft may appear on one side, both sides, or, in rare instances, in the middle of the lip. Often, children with a cleft lip also exhibit a cleft palate.

Understanding Cleft Palate
A cleft palate is another congenital condition that forms between the sixth and ninth weeks of pregnancy. It arises when the tissue responsible for creating the roof of the mouth, or the palate, doesn't fully join together during gestation. The degree to which the palate is open varies from child to child. For some, both the front and back sections of the palate may be open, while for others, only a portion of the palate is open.

Potential Causes and Risk Factors
The exact cause of orofacial clefts, which include cleft lip and cleft palate, remains unclear for most infants. Genetic changes can cause some children to develop a cleft lip or cleft palate. However, it's generally believed that these conditions result from a mixture of genetic and environmental influences. For instance, certain substances a mother may encounter in her environment, or specific foods, drinks, or medications consumed during pregnancy, could contribute to the development of these conditions.

Large-scale studies like the National Birth Defects Prevention Study and the Birth Defects Study To Evaluate Pregnancy exposure aim to identify the causes and risk factors of birth defects, including orofacial clefts.

Several risk factors that increase the likelihood of having a child with an orofacial cleft have been identified. These include:

1. Smoking during pregnancy
2. Pre-existing diabetes in mothers
3. Consumption of specific epilepsy medications, such as topiramate or valproic acid, during the first trimester

If you're pregnant or considering pregnancy, consult with your healthcare provider on ways to increase your chances of a healthy birth.

Routine ultrasounds during pregnancy can often detect orofacial clefts, specifically cleft lip with or without a cleft palate. These conditions can also be diagnosed post-birth, especially cleft palate. However, certain forms of cleft palate (e.g., submucous cleft palate and bifid uvula) may not be identified until later in life.

Treatment and Management
Treatment approaches for children with orofacial clefts vary based on the severity of the cleft, the child's age and unique needs, and the presence of related syndromes or other birth defects.

Surgery to repair a cleft lip usually happens within the first year of life, often in the first few months. Cleft palate repair is recommended within the first 18 months of life or even earlier if possible. Many children require additional surgical procedures as they grow. Surgical intervention can enhance a child's facial appearance and may improve breathing, hearing, and speech and language development. Other treatments may include dental or orthodontic care or speech therapy.

With the appropriate care, most children with orofacial clefts live healthy, fulfilling lives. Some may struggle with self-esteem due to visible differences between themselves and their peers. For families navigating these challenges, parent-to-parent support groups can be a valuable resource.

23 Jul 2023