About cleft lip and cleft palate
A cleft lip or cleft palate is when the lip or the roof of the mouth (the palate) doesn’t close over properly. This forms a cleft, or open space, in the lip or mouth. Cleft lip and cleft palate can happen separately or happen together. Cleft lip alone is more common.
Cleft lip and cleft palate are congenital defects – this means they happen very early in pregnancy and are present at birth.
We don’t know exactly what causes cleft lip and cleft palate. But the causes are likely to be genetic, although there’s often no family history of the condition.
Symptoms of cleft lip and cleft palate
Cleft lip and cleft palate vary in severity and appearance.
Cleft lip and cleft palate affect the way that children’s mouths look:
- Cleft lip is a gap in the upper lip, which might go up through the gum and into the nose.
- Cleft palate is a gap in the palate, which creates a connection between the mouth and the nose.
- Cleft lip and cleft palate is a gap in both the lip and roof of the mouth.
Cleft lip and palate might also affect the way children’s noses look.
Babies with cleft palate might have significant trouble feeding. This is because they find it difficult or impossible to suck, even though they have no problems swallowing.
Babies with a cleft palate might get glue ear. This is when fluid builds up behind the ear drum. Glue ear can lead to hearing difficulties.
Children who have cleft lip and palate might also have problems with teeth and gums. For example, they might have missing teeth, extra teeth or teeth coming out in the wrong place or the wrong direction. This can affect baby teeth and/or adult teeth.
Treatment for cleft lip and cleft palate
Treatment for cleft lip and/or cleft palate depends on severity.
Initially babies need to be fed with a special spout or an elongated teat. This sends milk to the back of their throats.
Surgery is always necessary. The type, extent and number of operations depend on the severity of the cleft lip or cleft palate. A cleft lip is usually repaired at 3-6 months of age, and a cleft palate at around 9-12 months of age, before children start to speak. Surgery is usually able to close the gaps in children’s lips and mouths.
After surgery, children with cleft lip or cleft palate need regular follow-up visits with specialist teams. This is to check how they’re growing and how they look, speak and hear. These follow-up checks help doctors decide whether children need more surgery.
Children with cleft lip and palate often need other therapy. For example, children with cleft palate need speech therapy. Children might also need specialised dental care to fix teeth problems.
With therapy and support, most children with cleft lip and/or cleft palate go on to lead healthy and active lives.
Prevention of cleft lip and cleft palate
You can’t prevent cleft lip and/or cleft palate.