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Women and Family Care

What is Cleft Lip and Palate?

What is Cleft Lip and Palate?

Very early in a mother's pregnancy, the baby's upper lip and palate-which is the roof of the mouth-form from several adjacent groups of tissue. These groups fuse together, forming the lip and palate.

Sometimes they do note fuse, leaving a vertical gap between the central lip and the outer lip. This is called a cleft lip. The cleft lip can be unilateral, meaning there's a gap on one side of the lip, or bilateral, meaning there's a gap on both sides.

Sometimes the palate doesn't fuse properly, leaving a gap in the roof of the mouth. This is called a cleft palate.

Babies can be born with either a cleft lip or a cleft palate or with both.

In most cases, we don't know what has caused the cleft lip or palate. It can happen to any family at any time, and we often can't point to a cause.

Genetics can play a role in cleft lip and palate, as can environmental factors. Clefts are more common in children of American Indian, Hispanic and Asian descent and less common among African-Americans. Maternal exposure to cigarette smoke, alcohol or drugs may also put a baby at higher risk. Boys are twice as likely to have a cleft lip, while girls are about twice as likely to have a cleft palate.


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