What Causes a Cleft Lip and Cleft Palate?

As the scientific world continues to discover more about cleft lip and cleft palate causes, it is estimated that these deformities occur at least once in every 700 births. This makes cleft lip and cleft palate some of the most common birth defects affecting children today.


What is a cleft palate and what is a cleft lip?

A cleft palate forms early on during pregnancy when the roof of a baby’s mouth doesn’t close properly. This results in an opening, known as the cleft, which extends from the front of the mouth in a backward direction along the hard palate. Sometimes the cleft can affect the soft palate as well.

A cleft lip is similar in that it also forms during the early stages of pregnancy. In this case, the front upper lip fails to form completely, resulting in a split in the tissue. This opening can stretch right up to the base of nose, and can also affect one or both sides of the lip area.

In extreme cases, a child may suffer from both a cleft lip and cleft palate. When this happens, the child is left with an opening that runs from the bottom of the nose all the way through the gums and palate.


What causes cleft lips and cleft palates?

Scientists have found that there are certain genes that make a baby more likely to develop a cleft than other babies, resulting in cleft lips and palates often running in families.


Together with this, the following factors can also increase the chances of a cleft forming:

  • Mother smokes while pregnant
  • Mother drinks alcohol or takes drugs during pregnancy
  • Pregnant mother has a lack of folic acid in her diet
  • Mother is extremely overweight


While scientists continue to learn more every day, the positive news is that surgeons can repair clefts, no matter what the cleft lip and cleft palate causes may be. As a result, sufferers have the chance to become healthy adults.


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