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Cleft palate/cleft lip are the most common types of birth defects. About one baby in 2,000 is born with a cleft palate and one in 1,000 is born with a cleft lip. Cleft palate/cleft lips occur when the two sides of either the roof of the mouth (palate) or the lips fail to fuse together in the embryo. The cause of this birth defect is unknown. The incidence of cleft palate alone is about 30% of these defects; of cleft lip alone is about 20% of these defects and both cleft palate and cleft lip in about 50% of these defects.
A cleft palate forms in either the hard palate (roof of the mouth) or soft palate (uvula) or both. Because the baby can't suck or swallow normally, cleft palate is often associated with feeding problems, speech and hearing difficulties, an increase in ear and sinus infections and dental problems. It may also impair a child's physical, psychological and language development. Cleft palate can be repaired via surgery, which is generally conducted between 12 and 18 months. Additional surgery is often required to fully correct the defect.
Cleft lip occurs when the upper lip fails to fuse together and instead forms one or two fissures, known as clefts. The cleft can be small, such as a notch, or it may extend from the base of the upper lip to the nose. Fortunately, cleft lip is easy to diagnose (at birth) and can be corrected through plastic surgery.