Cleft lip and palate are facial birth defects. A cleft lip affects the upper lip, ranging from a notch to a complete fissure extending into the nose.
A cleft palate affects the roof of the mouth with a groove that may extend through the dental arch. These abnormalities may occur separately or together. Cleft lip and palate are facial malformations that may occur separately or together. They may also occur in association with other syndromes or birth defects. The separation of the lip can vary from a small notch to a complete separation extending into the nose.
The cause of these malformations may be mutant genes or teratogens. Teratogens are agents that cause abnormalities in a developing fetus, such as viruses or chemicals. These abnormalities can cause feeding difficulties and problems with speech development. Risk factors include a family history of cleft lip or palate and the presence of another birth defect. The incidence of cleft lip and palate varies among different races; approximately 1 out of 1,000 Caucasians are affected. The incidence of cleft palate alone is 1 out of 2,500 people, which is not a rare occurrence.
There is no proven way to prevent this defect. Physical examination confirms the presence of cleft lip or cleft palate. Diagnostic testing may determine or rule out other abnormalities. Symptoms include separation of the lip, palate, or both, and varying amounts of nasal distortion.
Treatment of cleft lip and palate involves several specialties, including plastic surgeons, orthodontists, and speech therapists. The treatment may extend over a period of several years. Surgery to close the cleft lip is usually performed at 1 or 2 months of age, and later surgery may be needed if there is extensive nasal involvement. Since cleft palate is usually diagnosed at birth, it can usually be closed within the first year of life to enhance normal speech development.
Until surgery, a prosthetic device is often fitted over the palate for feeding. Although treatment may extend over several years and require several surgeries depending on the involvement, most children affected by this disorder can achieve a normal appearance, speech, and eating, and will gain social confidence without worrying about kids teasing them. For some, speech problems may continue. Complications that may occur include recurrent ear infections, hearing loss, dental cavities, and speech defects.
Although it is considered an abnormality,” it should not be thought of as a disability. However, the effects and problems that may occur because of this defect should not be ignored or neglected, such as speech impairment. Parents of the child need not feel responsible for their child’s disorder as there is no known preventive measure. Some parents decide that their child’s disorder does not need to be repaired, but it would only benefit the child when they grow older, both physically and emotionally, because the world is cruel and not very accepting of those who are “different” from the majority.
Better Homes and Gardens Family Medical Guide, Funk and Wagnalls Encyclopedia, and Microsoft Encarta98 Encyclopedia are all great resources for medical information. Additionally, you can find helpful information at www.healthhelp.com.
Cleft Lip and Palate Parent’s Guide by J.R. Thompkins, Health Care.