Facial irregularity (Cleft lip and palate)

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Definition
Cleft lip and palate are congenital abnormalities (present at birth) that affect the upper lip and the hard and soft palate of the mouth. Features range from a small notch in the lip to a complete fissure (groove) extending into the roof of the mouth and nose. These features may occur separately or together.

Causes
Cleft lip and palate are facial irregularities that may occur in association with other syndromes or birth defects. There are numerous causes for these birth defects, including teratogens (toxins), genes inherited from one or both parents (drugs, viruses, or toxins that can cause abnormalities in a developing fetus).

Characteristics

  • Separation of the lip alone
  • Separation of the palate
  • Separation of the lip and palate
  • Misaligned teeth
  • Varying amounts nasal distortion
  • Failure to gain weight
  • Growth retardation

Treatment
Treatment of cleft lip and palate requires a team approach and involves several specialties, including plastic surgeons, orthodontists, speech therapists, and others. Treatment may extend over a period of several years. Surgery to close the deft lip is usually at 3 - 9 months of age. Later surgery may be needed if there is extensive nasal involvement.

Complications
As well as being disfiguring, this abnormality can cause:

  • Feeding difficulties
  • Problems with speech development
  • Recurrent ear infections
  • Hearing loss
  • Dental cavities
  • Displaced teeth
  • Poor speech
  • Lip/nasal deformities

This resource is by no means intended as a substitute for a doctor's advice or diagnosis. Any concerns you may have with regard to your child's health and development should be discussed with a professional in an appropriate field.