Cleft lip is a birth defect that occurs in the early stages of fetal development. It consists in a gap between the two sides of the upper lip, as they fail to fuse. The birth defect can extend to the gums and base of the nose, or occur together with a cleft palate. As each year there are between one and two of every 1000 newborns suffering from the condition, cleft lip is the most common major birth defect in the United States.
How does a cleft lip occur?
There are several causes that can lead to the development of a cleft lip. Statistics have revealed that the condition is more common among babies of Asian, Latino, or Native American descent and among boys. In 25% of the cases patients have a family history of cleft lip.
Besides genetics environmental factors can also influence the condition. The most common risk factors include:
- drug abuse
- exposure to certain toxins
- infections during pregnancy
- inappropriate diet
Besides being aesthetically unattractive, a cleft lip can cause feeding problems, as the baby is unable to suck normally; the child is likely to have dental problems or speech difficulties and can develop hearing problems. The good thing is that cleft lips can be relatively easily treated through surgery.
Cleft lip repair surgery
Cleft lip treatment should begin in early childhood, as soon as the baby is strong enough to undergo anesthesia and it is likely to continue until adulthood. The cleft lip repair procedure serves both aesthetic and functional purposes, so it should be performed by a team of specialists, including:
- plastic surgeon
- speech-language pathologist
A cleft lip is usually repaired between the ages of 3 to 6 months. Children who have very wide clefts of the lip may require a procedure named lip adhesion to bring the parts closer together before the full lip repair. Surgery is performed in the hospital under general anesthesia and it will result in a scar on the lip under the nose.