Cleft lip and cleft palate are abnormalities of the face and mouth, which develop in the early stages of pregnancy. These malformations are produced because of deficient tissues in the lip and inside the mouth. As a result, the tissues are not able to join normally and a cleft or gap is left behind.
This condition is a deformity of the upper lip where the two sides are not fully joined and a gap or split is produced. This split may also involve the bony structures of the gums and upper jaw; and usually continues beyond the nasal base.
In case of cleft palate, there is a gap or split in the roof of mouth. This condition is characterized by a gap in the front bony portion (the hard palate) or the gap may only be limited to the back in the soft part (the soft palate) of the roof of mouth.
The conditions of cleft lip and cleft palate can develop separately or both can also occur together in the same individual. Similarly, one or both sides of the lip and face can be involved.
Incidence of Cleft Lip and Cleft Palate
Cleft lip and cleft palate are included as fourth in the list of common birth defects in the United States and the incidence is one in 700 births. Based on statistics, the incidence of cleft lip either alone or with cleft palate is twice as common in boys as in girls while cleft palate without a cleft lip is more common in girls (a ratio of 2:1). This set of birth defects is more commonly seen in children belonging to the Asian, Latino, and Native American ethnic groups.
Causes of Cleft Lip and Cleft Palate
In a majority of cases, the exact cause of developing cleft lip and cleft palate is not known. There is no known method to prevent the occurrence of such cases. It is believed that some environmental and genetic factors are responsible. It has also been observed that the chances of developing clefts of lip and palate greatly increase if the condition has previously affected a close relative like parent or sibling.
Other contributing factors that tend to cause this condition include:
- Medicines like anti-convulsants, some drugs used for acne, anti-cancer drugs for example methotrexate,
- Viral diseases,
- Exposure to chemicals, and
- Some other medical condition.
Diagnosis of Cleft Lip and Cleft Palate
In most cases the physical appearance itself is enough to diagnose a cleft lip or cleft palate. Cleft palate alone can be observed by physical examination of the mouth and nose. Ultrasound examination before the birth can also diagnose the presence of a cleft of the lip and palate.