An orofacial cleft is a congenital malformation that affects 1/1000 live births. It is characterized by an incomplete formation of structures separating the oral and nasal cavities. Other sources stated one in 700 babies each year are affected, and is ranked 4th in the most common birth defect in the United States. Children of Latino, Native American, or Asian descents have the occurrence more often. Data also indicates twice as many girls have the problem (cleft palates), as compared to boys.

This causes extensive speech and dental issues as well as the surgical and psychological aspects. It is thus important to understand the causes. Factors include environmental and genetic problems. In many cases, the cause is unknown, and conditions cannot be prevented.

What Causes Orofacial Clefting?

One potential cause could be from medications, such as acne drugs containing Accutane and methotrexate used for treating psoriasis, arthritis, and cancer. Anti-convulsive/anti-seizure drugs have also been indicated as a possible cause. As the fetus develops in the womb, exposure to some chemicals and viruses may have an effect on cleft palate and cleft lip; or it could be some other medical condition.

Cleft palate and cleft lip are oral and facial deformities occurring early in pregnancy. It results when not enough tissue is on the lip or mouth area, and it does not connect properly. Data indicates if a parent, sibling, or relative has a cleft; the newborn stands more of a chance of having the problem. A prenatal ultrasound may determine if a cleft exists.

A cleft lip is a separation or physical split of the two sides of the upper lip and presents as a gap/opening in the skin of the upper lip. The split extends beyond the nose base and includes bones in the upper gum and the upper jaw. They can occur on both or just one side of the mouth. It is possible to have one or both together.

Problems Associated with Orofacial Clefting

Dental problems occur more often due to cavities and displaced teeth. Many times, patients require orthodontic and dental treatments more than your average patient.

Speech problems are evident because the voice may make a nasal sound that is difficult to understand. Some may be improved with surgery, but others may require a speech pathologist to work with the patient.

The opening in the palate can cause liquids and food to pass from the mouth back through the nose. This can be remedied with specially designed baby bottles. Some children may be required to wear a man-made palate to ensure the proper amount of nutrition is received until a special treatment can be provided.

It may take several years, and require several surgeries, but most children can achieve normal appearances, good dental health, proper eating habits, and strong speech. The outlook improves with time and research.

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