Key Points about Cleft Lip and Palate

  • Cleft lip and palate are one of the most common defects at birth
  • Can be caused by genetics or environmental factors
  • Can be repaired with surgery
Common related conditions
Craniosynostosis Craniofacial Microsomia Positional Plagiocephaly Treacher Collins syndrome (TCS)

Cleft and lip palate causes

This condition is present in a baby when tissues in the face and mouth don’t fuse properly in the second or third month of pregnancy.

  • Genetics — The baby can inherit genes that cause clefting from their mother or father.
  • Environmental factors — In other instances, a gene that makes the baby more likely to develop this condition is passed on and the cleft will appear due to an environmental trigger.

Cleft and lip palate risk factors

There are several factors that could potentially contribute to a baby developing cleft lip or palate. A cleft lip with or without a cleft palate is more commonly shown in males. In females, cleft palate is more common. In the United States, this condition is most common in Native Americans.

  • Family history — If cleft lip and palate runs in the parents’ family history, they face a higher risk of having a baby with this condition.
  • Environmental factors — Exposure to substances, such as tobacco, alcohol or certain medications, during pregnancy could raise the risk of a cleft lip and palate at birth.
  • Diabetes — Some evidence shows that women diagnosed with diabetes pre-pregnancy may have a higher risk of having a baby with a cleft lip with or without a cleft palate.
  • Obesity during pregnancy — If a woman is obese while pregnant, there is some evidence that their baby may have a higher risk of having a cleft lip and palate.

Cleft and lip palate symptoms

Symptoms of cleft lip and palate are usually immediately identifiable at birth. These conditions can show as:

  • A split in the lip and the palate (roof of the mouth) can be present on both sides or one side of the face.
  • A small notch or split in the lip that can extend from the lip through the upper gum and palate into the bottom of the nose.
  • A split in the roof of the mouth only.

Cleft and lip palate diagnosis

  • Prenatal ultrasound can detect cleft lip and palate around 16 weeks into pregnancy.
  • Diagnosis is determined by a detailed visual assessment and physical examination at birth

Cleft and lip palate treatment

Surgery can be performed to repair the cleft lip or palate.

An important part of your child’s treatment is locating a Cleft and Craniofacial Team. Several specialists are part of this team to help coordinate and treat your child over several years through your child’s development.

A cleft lip is usually surgically repaired in the first months of your child’s life.

A cleft palate is usually surgically repaired in the first year of life.

The timing of the surgeries may depend on your child’s conditions as well as the type of surgery your plastic surgeon will perform.Based on the severity of the cleft lip, multiple surgeries may be necessary.

Recovery from a cleft lip or palate usually takes around a year. After the initial surgery, your child may experience swelling in the face, but once that subsides, any scarring will start to fade within a year.

On occasion, some children may require another surgery prior to beginning school, or as they enter adolescence.

During the course of treatment, your child may need to see other specialists including:

  • Feeding and speech therapists
  • Pediatric dentists
  • Orthodontists and prosthodontists
  • Oral surgeons
  • Otolaryngologists (ENT) and audiologists
  • Psychologists