Cleft defects are among the most common birth defects. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), about 1 out of every 1700 babies is born with a cleft palate, and about 1 out of every 1600 is born with both a cleft palate and a cleft lip.
While the precise causes of cleft defects aren’t known, many people who have a personal or family history of cleft palate wonder if that means their kids will have a higher risk of cleft issues as well.
In this post, Brandon Kang, DDS, and our team at Pacific Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery Center in Oakland, California, help patients understand the basics about cleft palate, including potential genetic causes and how cleft defects are treated.
Causes of cleft palate
In a developing baby, the left and right sides of their face form separately, growing toward the center and eventually joining together to form their whole face. A cleft palate forms early in pregnancy when these sides grow at different rates, preventing a complete joining in the mouth and nose area.
To date, researchers don’t know what causes cleft palate, but they suspect several factors may be at play, including environmental factors and maternal factors, like poor maternal health or smoking during pregnancy. Taking specific types of medication during pregnancy may also increase the risk of having a child with a cleft defect.
Researchers also believe cleft issues can be caused by genetic defects or syndromes that may or may not be inherited. Inherited gene defects can come from either the mother, father, or both.
If you have a cleft defect or you have a close relative with a cleft defect, you have a slightly higher chance of passing that defect to your child. That risk increases when multiple family members have clefts.
About a third of cleft defects are associated with genetic syndromes. Genetic syndromes can be associated with one gene or many genes. Some syndromes make cleft defects more likely. In fact, cleft palate or cleft lip have been linked with more than 400 specific genetic syndromes, including Down syndrome.
Treating cleft palate
A cleft palate won’t heal or close on its own, even as your baby grows. It needs to be corrected surgically to prevent problems with speech and eating.
Cleft palate surgery typically occurs at about 18 months of age or sometimes earlier, around the time your child begins to develop speech and language skills. Early treatment helps prevent delays that could take a toll on your child’s social development.
Cleft palate surgery focuses on resizing your child’s palate so it can function normally. During the procedure, muscles are reconnected to support speech function and the gap caused by their cleft is closed. After surgery, healing takes about 3-4 months.
Learn more about cleft palate treatment
A cleft palate isn’t uncommon, and it’s completely treatable. To learn more, book an appointment with Dr. Kang online or over the phone today.