Cleft Lip and Palate - 5 Things That Will Surprise You

by Dr. Peter Mossey

Cleft lip and palate are facial differences which occur when a baby's mouth does not form properly during pregnancy.

Despite more than 200,000 babies across the world being born with a cleft, many people are unfamiliar with the condition and the long-term impact that it can have on a child’s life.

Here, to tie in with Cleft Awareness Month – which runs throughout July – I, Dr Peter Mossey, an expert in craniofacial anomalies and a Medical Advisory Board member at the international children’s cleft charity, Smile Train, am going to share five surprising facts that you may not know about the condition.

FACT 1: A CLEFT LIP IS DIFFERENT FROM A CLEFT PALATE

A cleft lip occurs when the lip does not fuse together properly during foetal development.

In contrast, a cleft palate is a hole or opening in the roof of the mouth, and occurs when the roof of the mouth (which is made up of both the hard and soft palate) does not fuse together properly.

FACT 2: CLEFT LIP AND PALATE ISN’T JUST A COSMETIC CONCERN

Many people consider cleft to be only a cosmetic condition however, it is also a health and survival issue. Aside from the obvious signs of a cleft – a gap in the lip or the roof of the mouth - babies born with a cleft lip and/or palate can also have problems with their hearing, speaking, breathing and dental health.

Cleft surgery, and related cleft treatment, is therefore extremely important for the child to feed normally, improve hearing, for proper speech and language development, and to help alleviate issues with breathing.

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FACT 3: CLEFT CAN BE TREATED WITH SURGERY

Reconstructive surgery for clefts has evolved over more than half a century and modern techniques and procedures have come a long way.

Cleft treatment requires simple but meticulous surgery, which involves joining the tissues together that did not join properly during birth and provides immediate transformation.

Most experts agree that cleft lips should generally be repaired 3-6 months after birth, whereas cleft palates are typically repaired between6 and 12 months of age. However, surgeries carried out at even later ages are expected to be successful.

FACT 4: IN SOME TERRITORIES, BEING BORN WITH A CLEFT CAN BE SEEN AS A CURSE

Many people are shocked to learn that, in some areas of the world, children live in isolation and are shunned by their communities because they are living with an untreated cleft.

For example, traditionally babies born in Uganda with clefts have been given the name ‘Ajok’ - which means “cursed by God” - with some newborns being abandoned right after birth because of the lack of awareness around the condition.

It is therefore vital that communities all over the world are properly educated about the condition, and every cleft child has access to the proper treatment and care that they need.

FACT 5: MORE THAN 200,000 BABIES ARE BORN WITH CLEFTS EACH YEAR

Every year, more than 200,000 babies are born with a cleft lip and/or palate globally. This includes the UK; however, we rarely see children with untreated clefts here because treatment is offered for free from the NHS and is typically carried out very soon after the child has been born.

In many other countries around the world children born with clefts are not as fortunate. Families in the developing world often do not have access to quality healthcare services or the resources to pay for proper cleft treatment.

To help this global issue, Smile Train empowers local medical professionals with training, funding, and resources to provide 100% free cleft surgery and comprehensive cleft care within their communities.

To date, Smile Train has been able to transform the lives of more than 1.5 million children, by giving them a forever smile.


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Written by

Dr. Peter Mossey

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Smile Train empowers local medical professionals with training, funding, and resources to provide free cleft surgery and comprehensive cleft care to children globally. We advance a sustainable solution and scalable global health model for cleft treatment, drastically improving children’s lives, including their ability to eat, breathe, speak, and ultimately thrive.

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