Operation Smile is a charity organization for children – donate non profit
Operation Smile is a charity organization for children – donate non profit
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Cleft Lip and Cleft Palate FAQ

Every three minutes, a child is born with a cleft. Cleft lips and cleft palates can threaten both the life and livelihood of the child. At Operation Smile, we have a Research Department that is working to improve our understanding about cleft lip and cleft palate as well as treatment options. Through advancements in scientific research, we now know more about the occurrence of clefts and are finding ways to reduce their incidence. Below are the most frequently asked questions regarding the disease. From “What is a cleft palate?” to “What does cleft lip repair entail?,” we have the answers to these questions and more. To read cleft lip facts or to learn more about cleft lip repair and cleft palate surgery, view the information below.

What is a cleft lip and what is a cleft palate?

A cleft is an opening in the lip, the roof of the mouth or the soft tissue in the back of the mouth. A cleft lip may be accompanied by an opening in the bones of the upper jaw and/or the upper gum. A cleft palate occurs when the two sides of a palate do not join together, resulting in an opening in the roof of the mouth. A cleft lip and cleft palate can occur on one side or both sides. A child can suffer from a cleft lip, a cleft palate or both.

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What causes cleft lips and cleft palates?

The exact cause is unknown. Cleft lips and cleft palates are congenital defects that occur early in embryonic development. Scientists believe a combination of genetic and environmental factors, such as maternal illness, drugs or malnutrition, may lead to a cleft lip or cleft palate. If one child in a family is born with a cleft, the risk increases by 2 to 4 percent that future children in the family will suffer from the same defect.

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Can cleft lips and cleft palates be prevented?

Scientists are researching methods to prevent cleft lips and cleft palates. One finding, according to research studies, is that mothers who take multivitamins containing folic acid before conception and during the first two months of pregnancy may reduce their risk of giving birth to a baby with a cleft.

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Does a cleft lip or cleft palate cause problems for a child?

Ear disease and dental problems occur frequently, as do problems with proper speech development. Children who suffer from a cleft lip and/or cleft palate may have difficulty eating. To address these issues, a child and family may work with a team of specialists — a pediatrician, a plastic surgeon, dental specialists, an otolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat specialist), a speech-language pathologist and audiologist, a geneticist and a psychologist/social worker.

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Can cleft lip and cleft palate be repaired?

Yes. Cleft lip and cleft palate surgery provides excellent results. A pediatrician and a plastic surgeon work with a child's parents to choose the best timing for surgery. Most surgeons agree that a cleft lip repair should be completed by the time a baby is 3 months old. To repair the partition of mouth and nose as early as possible, cleft palate surgery is recommended between the ages of 12 and 18 months. Any surgical procedure or cleft lip or cleft palate treatment is dependent upon a child's general health and the nature of the cleft lip or cleft palate.

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How frequently do cleft lip and cleft palate occur?

Cleft lip and cleft palate occur in approximately 1 in 700 births, the ratio varying considerably across geographic areas or ethnic groupings.

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Where can I get additional information?

If you would like additional information regarding cleft lip and cleft palate, statistics and treatment, contact us. Additional resources regarding cleft lip and palate occurrence is available in our Gene/Environment Study or in the Publication section of our site. For ongoing updates, sign up for our e-newsletter by entering your email address below.

Cleft Research

Learn about our research efforts into how and why clefts occur.