Cleft simply means split. A cleft palate is a split in the roof of the mouth, and a cleft lip is a split in the upper or lower lip. Oral clefts are a fairly common birth defect, affecting as many as one in every 1,000 children, and children can be born with either a cleft lip or palate or both.

We all start out with cleft lips and palates. As a part of normal fetal development, between the 6th and 11th weeks of pregnancy, the clefts in the lip and palate fuse together. People born with a cleft lip and/or palate still in place means that one of the splits failed to knit together.

Oral clefts can range from a small splits to large openings that cause issues to a child’s ability to breathe, eat, and speak normally. Physicians and researchers are unsure what causes cleft lips and palates. However, many believe it is caused by the child’s inherited traits, and/or poor early pregnancy health.

Treatment for cleft lips and palates are treated based on the severity and location of the split(s) and often include multiple surgeries. Follow-up visits may include psychological or speech counseling to help the child’s early development.


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