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Every July, healthcare professionals across the nation join together to promote awareness of and educate the population on birth defects of the head and face. Some of these birth defects include those around the mouth such as cleft lip and cleft palate. The team at our children’s dental office in Erdenheim wants to do our part this month and help raise awareness and understanding of these birth defects.

What is Cleft Lip?

Throughout nine months of pregnancy, a baby is growing organs and arms, toes and fingers, and eventually the face. The formation of the face is especially interesting since both sides of it continue to grow inward until they join in the middle. That process, typically occurring between weeks four and seven of pregnancy, is when babies develop their facial features, including the lips. However, if the left side of the face doesn’t fully connect to the right during development, the baby may have a gap in the upper lip. This is known as cleft lip.

What is Cleft Palate?

Similarly to cleft lip, cleft palate also means that part of the mouth didn’t fully form together during pregnancy. However instead of affecting the lip, cleft palate means the space formed when the sides did not connect together is on the inside roof of the mouth. It’s possible for someone to have both cleft palate and cleft lip.

How Common is Cleft Lip & Cleft Palate?

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) a little over 4,400 babies are born with a cleft lip and 2,600 babies are born with a cleft palate every year.

What Causes Cleft Lip & Cleft Palate?

Unfortunately, many times the cause of cleft lip or cleft palate is unknown. However, researchers believe genetics play a role, and things that the mother does during pregnancy may also raise the risk. In fact, studies conducted by the CDC show strong evidence that smoking during pregnancy, moms with diabetes, and taking certain epilepsy medications may all put babies at greater risk for developing cleft lip or cleft palate.

Treatment Options

Cleft lip and cleft palate treatment varies from case to case depending on a variety of factors. Surgery may be an option, but it’s typically recommended prior to baby’s first birthday for a cleft lip and no later than 18 months for a cleft palate. Additionally, some kids may need more surgeries as the continue to grow.  

For more information on cleft lip, cleft palate, or other orofacial clefts, we encourage you to talk to your Erdenheim children’s dentist or read articles published by the American Dental Association or the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry.