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The development of a cleft lip or a cleft palate or both is purely due to a failure of the normal fusion between tissues of the face, however, it is something that has carried with it a lot of social stigma and even preposterous superstitions in some parts of Southeast Asia and Africa. The incidence of these conditions is roughly around two per every 1000 births and is relatively evenly spread all over the world. Luckily, improving the amount of information people have about these conditions has meant that the stigma associated with these conditions is slowly but surely reducing.
This refers to a condition in which there is a gap in the upper lip due to an improper formation during development. This gap can be limited to just the lip or may extend all the way up to the nose. It was referred to as "hare lip" some time back, however, that term is now considered offensive and should be avoided.
The palate is composed of two separate processes that join with each other in the midline. A failure to do so results in the formation of a cleft palate. This is the more serious condition of the two, since it makes the child more susceptible to infection, development of speech defects and even hampers the ability of the infant to intake nutrition.
Just like a cleft lip, there are various degrees of severity when it comes to a cleft palate. The problem may be just limited to a small part of the palate, or may have a huge opening affecting the nasal floor as well.
Cleft Lip And Palate — Causes And Diagnosis
The exact cause for the development of cleft lip and palate is unknown, however, there are a few risk factors that have been identified. Smoking during pregnancy has one of the strongest associations with the development of the disease. Obesity during pregnancy and the ingestion of certain anti-seizure drugs have also been identified as potential risk factors.
Almost half of the cases of cleft lip and palate may be associated with the development of certain genetic syndromes. The Van Der Woude Syndrome is the most commonly associated one among these.
Due to the physical nature of the condition, the diagnosis is self-evident after birth. This condition may also be spotted in an ultrasound prior to birth. The risk of male babies developing a cleft lip and palate is almost twice as high as female babies.
Advances in research have helped isolate some potential gene mutations which could be the underlying cause for these conditions to develop. Animal studies have indicated that hypoxia (lack of proper oxygen) could be the common link leading to these gene mutations, however, more work needs to be done before stating this with certainty.
Parents often ask as to what they can do to prevent the development of cleft lip and palate in their children. The answer is quite vague and non-specific. Eating a healthy diet and avoiding smoking, excessive alcohol and other potentially deleterious substances is all that a person can do.