Oral-Facial Clefts

(Cleft Lip; Cleft Palate)


An oral-facial cleft is a birth defect. It occurs when the lip or the roof of the mouth do not form properly. The defect may include a cleft lip, a cleft palate, or both. A cleft lip is a gap in the upper lip, usually just below the nose. A cleft palate is a gap in the roof of the mouth or in the soft tissue at the back of the mouth. In the majority of cases, a cleft lip and cleft palate occur together.
Infant With Cleft Lip
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Early in pregnancy, all babies have an opening in the lip and palate. As the baby grows, these openings should gradually grow together. By birth, the openings should be closed. For some reason, in children with oral-facial clefts, these openings fail to close. The exact reason these openings do not close is not known.

Risk Factors

Oral-facial clefts are more common in males. Other factors in the infant that may increase the chance of oral-facial clefts include:
  • Having other birth defects
  • Having a sibling, parent, or other close relative born with an oral-facial cleft
Factors in the mother during pregnancy that may increase the chance of oral-facial clefts include:
  • Taking certain medications, such as antiseizure drugs, thalidomide, or retinoic acid
  • Smoking
  • Consuming alcohol
  • Having diabetes


The major symptom of a cleft lip and/or cleft palate is a visible opening in the lip or palate.Complications that can occur as a result of an oral-facial cleft include:
  • Feeding problems, especially with cleft palate
  • Problems with speech development
  • Dental problems, including missing teeth, especially when cleft lip extends to the upper gum area
  • Symptoms of middle ear infections
  • Hearing problems
  • Symptoms of sleep-disordered breathing

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