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cleft lip and cleft palate

Cleft lip and cleft palate are collectively known as orofacial birth defects. These are the most severe forms of birth defects that happen during the early stages of pregnancy. These congenital birth defects affect oral and dental structures, leading to facial deformity. The occurrence of cleft lip and palate varies from 0.5-3.63 per every 1,000 live births. In most cases, the exact cause o is difficult to determine. A cleft lip or palate could happen alone (with no other health related issue) can be or associated with other birth defects or syndromes. In this short article, we discuss the basics of cleft and palate and understand the causes, clinical features, management, and complications.


Cleft lip and cleft palate are birth defects that display an incomplete fusion of the roof of the mouth and the sides of the lips.

Cleft Lip: During the 4th and 7th week of pregnancy, the lips of the baby take their  shape as the tissues from either side of the head develop toward the center to form the face. The joining of these tissues leads to the formation of the nose, lips, and mouth. Cleft Lip occurs when the lips don’t fuse completely during fetal development. The degree of lip cleft may vary from mild (a slight notch) to severe (a large gap that extends through the nose).

Cleft palate: The palate forms the roof of the oral cavity and the floor for the nasal cavity. The formation of the palate occurs during the 6th and 9th week of pregnancy. During the formation process, when the roof of the mouth does not completely fuse in the center or from front to back, a large gap can extend into the nasal cavity. After birth, a part of the baby’s palate is open, or  both front and back remain open.


The exact cause of cleft lip and palate is still unclear. However, certain risk factors are associated with the formation of congenital birth defects, including the following:

Hereditary factors: Researchers have reported an increased familial tendency for the development of a cleft lip and palate. However, while cleft lip is more common in males, isolated cleft palate is more common in females.

Environmental factors:

Smoking: Most orofacial defects are linked to mothers who smoked during pregnancy.

Diabetes: Pregnant females with pre-existing diabetes have a higher risk for delivering a baby with orofacial defects.

Certain medications: Certain drugs taken during pregnancy increase the risk of developing the defective fusion of bones and soft tissues.


Feeding problems: The presence of a cleft palate makes it difficult for the child to latch on to the mother’s breast. When there is an opening in the palate, milk or food passes from the mouth to the nasal cavity. It takes time for the baby to learn to swallow.

Dental problems: The presence of orofacial defects can cause several dental problems. The teeth may not grow properly, in the wrong position, are maligned, incorrectly shaped, or missing completely. 

Language and speech delays: An opening in the roof of the oral cavity or lip makes it difficult for the child to use the muscles associated with speech and the formation of words, causing a lisp or delay in the development of speech milestones.

Ear infections and hearing problems: babies with a cleft lip or palate run a greater risk for ear infections and fluid build-up in the ears. If the cleft extends from the palate to the throat, your child may experience frequent ear infections and more risk for a complete or partial loss of hearing.


Cleft care is a marathon and not a sprint. Different issues need to be treated at different times. Cleft lip and palate can be successfully treated with several non-invasive and surgical methods. The management of a child with a  cleft lip and palate needs a team of specialists, which includes a dental surgeon, a plastic surgeon, a prosthodontist, a speech therapist, and an otolaryngologist. Patients should follow a regular oral health routine to keep the tissue in the area of the cleft clean. A regular visit to the dentist with proper home care helps ward off potential gum infections.

With advances in dental health care, babies born with a cleft lip and palate  can be treated successfully. It is important for parents to get a good treatment plan and proper dental imaging x-rays to understand what it entails.


At Channel Islands Family Dental office, we provide a wide range of dental services at our various branches. Improve your smile and health with us. Feel free to call and book an appointment today with our dentists in Oxnard, Ventura, and Port Hueneme, Newbury Park and Santa Paula.

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