Cleft Lip & Cleft Palate

What it is and what it's all about

What is a cleft lip?

A cleft lip is a facial and oral malformation. It's a physical split or separation of the two sides of the upper lip and it appears as a narrow opening or gap in the skin of the upper lip. This separation often extends beyond the base of the nose and includes the bones of the upper jaw and/or upper gum.

What is a cleft palate?

A cleft palate is a facial and oral malformation as well. It's a split or opening in the roof of the mouth. A cleft palate can involve the hard palate (the bony front part of the roof of your mouth) or the soft palate ( the soft back part of the roof of your mouth).

What causes this? Did I do something?

This occurs very early during the pregnancy. Clefting results when there is not enough tissue in the mouth or lip are, and the tissue that is available doesn't join correctly. There also appears to be a combination of genetic and environmental risk factors. Genetic risk factors depend on the number of affected relatives, the closeness of affected relatives, and the severity of the clefts. They can also be cased by medication the mother takes during pregnancy. Some risky medications are: anti-seizure/ anticonvulsant, acne drugs, and drugs used for treating cancer, arthritis, and psoriasis. Also can be caused by exposure to viruses and chemicals.

Effects of Cleft Lip/ Palate

  • Eating Problems
  • Ear infections/hearing loss
  • Speech Problems
  • Dental Problems
  • Breastfeeding is practically impossible, baby is unable to latch on

How can it be detected? Treatment?

Its a physical defect, so it is very easy to detect. Prenatal ultrasounds can sometimes determine if a cleft exists. Also, sometimes diagnostic tests can be conducted to determine or rule out the presence of other abnormalities. Clefts can be treated by a combination or surgery, dental, and orthodontic care.
Operation Smile is an organization the performs pro bono cleft lip and palate surgeries to babies in third world countries who don't have the money or healthcare to pay for the surgery. It was founded in 1982 by Dr. William Magee and his wife Kathy. William was a plastic surgeon and his wife was a nurse and clinical care social worker. They traveled with a group of medical volunteers to the Philippines.


A 5 year old girl from Brazil came to Infantil Albert Sabin Hospital with her mom to get her cleft lip fixed. Kids in school would make fun of Danila's cleft lip. Operation Smile completed her surgery
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Alejandro was born with a cleft lip. When his father learned of the defect, the father refused to see or even accept his son. The nurses at the hospital Alejandro was born at, told his mother about Operation Smile and 10 months later, he and his mother had been kicked out and rejected by their peers in the village so they had to move to another. After these 10 months, Operation Smile comes to their village and grant the OK to fix his cleft lip.
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  • "{:en}Cleft Lip and Cleft Palate: Causes and Treatment{:}{:es}Labio Leporino Y Paladar Hendido: Las Causas Y El Tratamiento{:}." American Pregnancy Association. N.p., 25 Apr. 2012. Web. 10 May 2016.
  • "Cleft Lip and Cleft Palate: Causes and Treatments." WebMD. WebMD, n.d. Web. 10 May 2016.
  • "Why We Exist." Operation Smile. Operation Smile, n.d. Web. 10 May 2016.