iCliniq logo

Ask a Doctor Online Now

HomeHealth articlescleft palateCleft Lip and Cleft Palate - Causes | Symptoms | Diagnosis | Treatments

Cleft Lip and Cleft Palate - Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatments

Verified dataVerified data
Cleft Lip and Cleft Palate - Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatments

5 min read


Cleft lip and palate is a condition affecting children right from birth and is becoming more common nowadays. Read this article to know the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment options.

Written by

Dr. Lochana .k

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Sneha Kannan

Published At February 27, 2020
Reviewed AtMay 20, 2024

What Is a Cleft Lip and Cleft Palate?

A cleft lip is an abnormal opening in the lips and roof of the mouth. It is a common birth defect in children. It can occur on one or both sides depending on the severity. Orofacial clefts include both cleft lip and cleft palate. This condition is often accompanied by other disorders. In cleft palate cases, cleft palate surgery is done to close the separation in the palate, promoting improved function and reducing the potential for associated complications. Recent advances have made both cleft lip and palate completely treatable.


Unilateral complete , Unilateral incomplete , Bilateral complete

  1. Unilateral Complete - The slit or the gap extends from the lips to the nose only on one side.

  2. Unilateral Incomplete - The slit or the gap extends only up to the lip region only on one side.

  3. Bilateral Complete - The slit or gap extends from the lip up to the nose on both sides.

What Are the Causes of Cleft Lip and Palate?

  • Genetics.

  • Environmental factors.

  • Consumption of alcohol and smoking in pregnant mothers.

  • When the mother had taken certain toxic medications during pregnancy. Drugs such as anticonvulsants and steroids are included in this.

  • Fetal exposure to chemicals and toxins in the womb.

  • Gestational diabetes (mother with diabetes during pregnancy).

  • When the tissue is not sufficient in the lip area.

  • Mother being obese during pregnancy.

  • Folic acid and vitamin B deficiency in pregnant mothers.

What Are the Risk Factors?

  1. Consanguineous marriage.

  2. Risk increases if one of the family members is diagnosed with this condition.

  3. Women who conceive in their later years tend to have more risk.

  4. Exposure to radiation.

  5. It is common in Asian and American children.

  6. Mongoloids have high reported cases of this condition.

  7. Boys are more frequently affected than girls.

What Does It Look Like?

child is born with cleft

Every two minutes, a child is born with a cleft somewhere in the world.

What Are the Problems Faced by the Baby?

  • Swallowing problems.

  • Breathing problems.

  • Difficulty in speech.

  • Difficulty in hearing.

  • Ear infections.

  • Dental problems.

    • Gum and bones surrounding the teeth may be affected.

    • Higher risk of tooth decay.

    • A missing or displaced tooth which might require orthodontic treatment (braces).

  • Imbalance in social and emotional states.

  • Malnutrition (deficient nutrient supply).

  • Memory problems.

  • Attention deficit.

At What Point During Pregnancy Can an Ultrasound Reveal a Cleft Lip and Cleft Palate?

Healthcare providers can identify a cleft lip during the 20-week ultrasound, also known as the anatomy scan, conducted between 18 and 22 weeks of pregnancy. In some cases, it may be detected as early as 12 weeks. As the fetus progresses in development, the diagnosis of a cleft lip becomes more accurate. However, identifying a cleft palate alone through ultrasound is generally more challenging.

What Is the Management and Treatment for Cleft Lip and Cleft Palate?

The treatment for cleft lip and palate requires a multidisciplinary approach.

1) Surgical Treatment:

For Cleft Lip -

A rule of 10 has to be followed for the surgery to be more successful. The child who is undergoing surgery:

  • Should be at least 10 weeks of age.

  • Should be at least 10 pounds of weight.

  • Should have a hemoglobin (Hb) value of about 10 gm/dL.

Repairing a cleft lip may involve one or two surgeries. The first surgery typically happens when the baby is 3 to 6 months old, closing the infant's lip. If needed, the second surgery is usually performed around the age of 6 months. With proper surgical techniques, the lip, nose, and facial structures can be restored. This will thereby promote normal functioning. The repair of cleft lip is done by a surgical procedure called cheiloplasty.

Before surgery, various non-invasive techniques can significantly enhance the outcomes of cleft lip and palate repairs, positively affecting the shape of the baby's lip, nose, and mouth:

  • Lip-Taping Regimen: This technique helps narrow the gap in the child's cleft lip.

  • Nasal Elevator: This tool assists in forming the correct shape of the baby's nose.

  • Nasal-Alveolar Molding (NAM) Device: This device may be used to mold the lip tissues into a more favorable position in preparation for lip repair.

For Cleft Palate- Cleft palate repair or cleft palate surgery often performed around the age of 12 months, focuses on creating a functional palate and reducing the likelihood of fluid buildup in the middle ears. To address fluid accumulation, children with a cleft palate often require special tubes in their eardrums for drainage, with regular hearing check-ups recommended.

  • Approximately 40 percent of children with a cleft palate may undergo additional surgeries along with cleft plate surgery to enhance speech. Speech evaluation by a pathologist is typically conducted between ages 4 and 5, utilizing tools like a nasopharyngeal scope to assess palate and throat movement.

  • If surgical intervention is necessary for improved speech, the cleft palate surgery is usually performed around age 5.

  • For those with a cleft involving the gum line, a bone graft may be needed between the ages of 6 and 10 to support permanent teeth and stabilize the upper jaw.

  • Subsequent orthodontic interventions, such as braces and a palate expander, are often required as permanent teeth emerge.

In addition to cleft palate surgery, other procedures may be considered to enhance the appearance of the lip and nose, close openings between the mouth and nose, facilitate breathing, and stabilize the jaw. Cleft lip surgery typically results in a small pink scar that tends to fade over time and becomes less noticeable as the child grows. While surgical risks such as bleeding, infection, and damage to nerves or tissues exist, the overall success rate is high, and risks are generally low.

2) Non-Surgical Treatment:

For patients who have high risk involved in surgery and those who are not willing for surgery, dental obturator is the treatment of choice. It can be used in the sites of deficient tissues. The main advantage of an obturator is the high degree of closure. One of its notable disadvantages is the irritation of oral mucosa.

1. Rehabilitation:

  • Hearing - Most of the children with cleft lip and palate suffer from hearing disabilities. Children can be given appropriate hearing aids. An audiologist will help to assess and monitor hearing. Otolaryngologists also play a vital role.

  • Speaking - Children will need help from speech-language pathologists and occupational therapists to conduct speech therapies. It is highly effective and will help the children to speak normally.

  • Eating - Feeding and growth of the child will be a primary concern for the parents. Infants will not be able to breastfeed like others. Feeding tubes and specialized bottles will be required to feed the infant. Draining of oral fluids in the nasal cavity should be done to enable better feeding.

  • Nasality - Velopharyngeal insufficiency is the inability of the soft palate to close while speaking. It can cause hypernasality (increased nasal resonance), hyponasality (reduced nasal resonance), or both, which is known as mixed nasal resonance.

  • Psychological Factors - Having a kid with this condition is a great psychological disturbance for the parents. As these parents are generally under constant stress, they are given psychological counseling. In case the child is suffering from an inferiority complex, it is advisable for the child to undergo psychotherapy.

2. Dental Problems -This might require the help of a pediatric dentist, prosthodontist, and orthodontist.

  • Prosthodontic Care - Prosthodontists help in designing a feeding obturator. It is also known as a speech bulb. This prosthesis will help the patient to close the separation between the oral and nasal cavities. It helps in the proper development of jaws. It helps to reduce nasal regurgitation (food and liquids coming out through the nose). It reduces choking. In case of a missing tooth, it can be replaced with fixed partial dentures, complete dentures, or dental implants in the later stages. The prosthodontist formulates the treatment plan with plastic surgeons.

  • Orthodontic Care - Orthodontists help to regulate the growth of facial structures and monitor jaw development.


Cleft lip and cleft palate are conditions that some people are born with and can affect how their face looks and their overall health. Luckily, doctors can do surgeries to help fix these issues when the person is still a baby. Finding the problem early and getting the right medical care can make things better for those who have these conditions. There is no exact way to prevent cleft lip and palate. However, the intake of folic acid by the mother during pregnancy might help. Carrying mothers should strictly avoid cigarettes and alcohol. They should also take vitamin supplements.

Frequently Asked Questions


How Is Cleft Palate Treated?

Palate repair surgery is the treatment for cleft palate. This surgery is done when the baby is six to twelve months old. The gap between the roof of the mouth is closed and rearranged using dissolvable stitches.


What Medicines Can Lead to Cleft Palate?

The use of certain medicines during pregnancy can also lead to cleft palate. Medicines like Topiramate or Valproic acid during the first trimester (first three months) have a higher chance of causing cleft palate in children.


When Can the Cleft Lip Be Diagnosed?

A cleft lip can be diagnosed by doing an ultrasound scan. The ultrasound scan between 18 and 21 weeks of pregnancy can help detect the cleft. However, it is very difficult to identify the cleft in these scans, but after birth, it can be easily identified on clinical examination.


What Is the Most Common Problem With Cleft Lip and Palate?

One of the most common problems with children with cleft palate and cleft lip is feeding problems. They cannot breastfeed, which can lead to other growth-related issues. Moreover, there can be problems with hearing, ear infections, and speaking.


What Bones Lead to the Cleft Palate?

The cleft palate occurs due to the incomplete union of multiple bones of the face, which may include hard and soft palate. During the development, the opening between the palatine processes of the right and left maxillary bones and sometimes the nasal septum can lead to a cleft palate.


What Is the Treatment for Cleft Lip?

The treatment for cleft lip is the same as that of cleft palate, with surgery only. The surgery can be performed as early as three to six months of age. However, other treatments, such as speech therapy and dental care, may also be needed along with surgery.


How Are Cleft Lips Fixed?

The cleft lip is corrected by the surgeon using a rotation advancement repair. In this surgery, an incision is made on each side of the cleft from the lip to the nostril, and both sides are sutured together.


What Vitamin Deficiency Can Lead to a Cleft Palate?

A deficiency of vitamin B and folic acid is considered one of the causes of cleft lip and palate. Females who do not take these vitamins during their maternal stage are at a higher risk that their children will get affected with cleft lip and palate. The risk may be higher in parents who are older than usual at the time of birth of their baby.


What Is the Name of Cleft Palate Surgery?

Cleft palate surgery is called palatoplasty. This is performed when the child is 10 to 12 months old. This surgery aims to close the gap between the nose and mouth.


How to Feed a Baby With a Cleft Lip?

Most babies born with cleft lips and without cleft palate can be fed well without special equipment. The child with cleft lip can be breastfed or use a regular bottle-feeding system. However, the only thing that might be needed might be positioning the nipple in the mouth of the baby to form a seal.
Source Article IclonSourcesSource Article Arrow
Dr. Lochana .k
Dr. Lochana .k



cleft lipcleft palate
Community Banner Mobile
By subscribing, I agree to iCliniq's Terms & Privacy Policy.

Source Article ArrowMost popular articles

Ask your health query to a doctor online


*guaranteed answer within 4 hours

Disclaimer: No content published on this website is intended to be a substitute for professional medical diagnosis, advice or treatment by a trained physician. Seek advice from your physician or other qualified healthcare providers with questions you may have regarding your symptoms and medical condition for a complete medical diagnosis. Do not delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice because of something you have read on this website. Read our Editorial Process to know how we create content for health articles and queries.

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. iCliniq privacy policy