What to do about a cleft lip or palate

An oral or facial cleft is a small gap or opening on the palate part or the lip part of a newborn baby. It is a congenital disorder which means that it is present since the birth of a person.  It turns out to be one of the most widespread birth defects in babies all over the world.

The exact causes of a cleft palate or cleft lip are yet to be found. The suggested causes can be environmental, genetic or exposure to certain teratogens in the first trimester of a baby’s life in the womb. A cleft lip or cleft palate occurs due to a faulty developmental process. In the first six to ten weeks, the face formation occurs in an embryo. In cases of a baby with cleft lip the lips fail to fuse properly.

A cleft lip mostly will just look like a small gap on the periphery of the lip;it sometimes does spread within the nose or may even extend in between the gums. A cleft palate is very much variable in size and shape. It sometimes just affects the soft palate which is the soft region just before the starting of throat and is the end point of mouth, or sometimes it makes a gap or opening in the hard palate which is just at the start of mouth after the rows of teeth. Both of them has a common border with nasal cavity and acts as a separating boundary. So babies with this kind of disorder can’t eat food normally without getting some in the nasal cavity. The parents and caretakers have to be very careful while feeding them.

A cleft palate which has formed by environmental causes mostly is generally more common in the girl child. A cleft lip which has formed more by genetic and less due to the environmental factors is often seen in the male child. A cleft lip and a cleft lip together can be found commonly in the boys but is very rare in the girls. A cleft lip is of two types mainly- unilateral and bilateral. Unilateral cleft lip is when the cleft lip is present on only one side of the lip. It is more common than the bilateral cleft lip. In bilateral cleft lip two clefts are present in each of the two sides of the lip.

The cost of cleft lip and palate surgery in India is just moderate. It is a popular surgery nowadays. The team conducting the total surgery and after-care of a baby with cleft lip or palate includes plastic surgeon, oral surgeon, audiologist, speech therapist, ear nose and throat surgeon, speech-language pathologist and nurses (sometimes social workers may be present). There is also a need for follow up every year to check the progress of your child. He or she will be tested for speech patterns and growth, the way his or her teeth are coming out and an orthodontist may be required if the teeth are not coming out in proper alignment.