Cleft Lip, Cleft Palate & Other Facial Clefts

Cleft Lip:

Cleft lip and cleft palate, also known as orofacial cleft, is a group of conditions that includes cleft lip (CL), cleft palate (CP), and both together (CLP). A cleft lip contains an opening in the upper lip that may extend into the nose. The opening may be on one side, both sides, or in the middle. A cleft palate is when the roof of the mouth contains an opening into the nose. These disorders can result in feeding problems, speech problems, hearing problems, and frequent ear infections. Less than half the time the condition is associated with other disorders.

Cleft lip and palate are the result of tissues of the face not joining properly during development. s such, they are a type of birth defect. The cause is unknown in most cases. Risk factors include smoking during pregnancy, diabetes, obesity, an older mother, and certain medications. Cleft lip and cleft palate can often be diagnosed during pregnancy with an ultrasound exam.

Signs and symptoms

If the cleft does not affect the palate structure of the mouth, it is referred to as cleft lip. Cleft lip is formed in the top of the lip as either a small gap or an indentation in the lip (partial or incomplete cleft), or it continues into the nose (complete cleft). Lip cleft can occur as a one-sided (unilateral) or two-sided (bilateral) condition. It is due to the failure of fusion of the maxillary and medial nasal processes (formation of the primary palate).

A mild form of a cleft lip is a microform cleft. A microform cleft can appear as small as a little dent in the red part of the lip or look like a scar from the lip up to the nostril. In some cases muscle tissue in the lip underneath the scar is affected and might require reconstructive surgery. It is advised to have newborn infants with a microform cleft checked with a craniofacial team as soon as possible to determine the severity of the cleft.


Cleft may cause problems with feeding, ear disease, speech and socialization. Due to lack of suction, an infant with a cleft may have trouble feeding. An infant with a cleft palate will have greater success feeding in a more upright position. Gravity will help prevent milk from coming through the baby’s nose if he/she has cleft palate.

Individuals with cleft also face many middle ear infections which may eventually lead to hearing loss. The Eustachian tubes and external ear canals may be angled or tortuous, leading to food or other contamination of a part of the body that is normally self- cleaning. Hearing is related to learning to speak. Babies with palatal clefts may have compromised hearing and therefore, if the baby cannot hear, it cannot try to mimic the sounds of speech. Thus, even before expressive language acquisition, the baby with the cleft palate is at risk for receptive language acquisition. Because the lips and palate are both used in pronunciation, individuals with cleft usually need the aid of a speech therapist.


Traditionally, the diagnosis is made at the time of birth by physical examination. Recent advances in prenatal diagnosis have allowed obstetricians to diagnose facial clefts in utero with ultrasonography. Clefts can also affect other parts of the face, such as the eyes, ears, nose, cheeks, and forehead.


Cleft lip and palate is very treatable; however, the kind of treatment depends on the type and severity of the cleft.

Most children with a form of clefting are monitored by a cleft palate team or craniofacial team through young adulthood. Care can be lifelong. Treatment procedures can vary between craniofacial teams. For example, some teams wait on jaw correction until the child is aged 10 to 12 (argument: growth is less influential as deciduous teeth are replaced by permanent teeth, thus saving the child from repeated corrective surgeries), while other teams correct the jaw earlier (argument: less speech therapy is needed than at a later age when speech therapy becomes harder). Within teams, treatment can differ between individual cases depending on the type and severity of the cleft.


Within the first 2–3 months after birth, surgery is performed to close the cleft lip. While surgery to repair a cleft lip can be performed soon after birth, often the preferred age is at approximately 10 weeks of age. f the cleft is bilateral and extensive, two surgeries may be required to close the cleft, one side first, and the second side a few weeks later. The most common procedure to repair a cleft lip is the Millard procedure. Often an incomplete cleft lip requires the same surgery as complete cleft. This is done for two reasons. Firstly the group of muscles required to purse the lips run through the upper lip. In order to restore the complete group a full incision must be made. Secondly, to create a less obvious scar the surgeon tries to line up the scar with the natural lines in the upper lip (such as the edges of the philtrum) and tuck away stitches as far up the nose as possible. Incomplete cleft gives the surgeon more tissue to work with, creating a more supple and natural-looking upper lip.

Often a cleft palate is temporarily covered by a palatal obturator (a prosthetic device made to fit the roof of the mouth covering the gap). Cleft palate can also be corrected by surgery, usually performed between 6 and 12 months. Approximately 20–25% only require one palatal surgery to achieve a competent velopharyngeal valve capable of producing normal, non-hypernasal speech. However, combinations of surgical methods and repeated surgeries are often necessary as the child grows.

The Latham is surgically inserted by use of pins during the child’s 4th or 5th month. After it is in place, the doctor, or parents, turn a screw daily to bring the cleft together to assist with future lip or palate repair.

If the cleft extends into the maxillary alveolar ridge, the gap is usually corrected by filling the gap with bone tissue. The bone tissue can be acquired from the patient’s own chin, rib or hip.

Facial cleft:

A facial cleft is an opening or gap in the face, or a malformation of a part of the face. Facial clefts is a collective term for all sorts of clefts. All structures like bone, soft tissue, skin etc. can be affected. Facial clefts are extremely rare congenital anomalies. There are many variations of a type of clefting and classifications are needed to describe and classify all types of clefting. Facial clefts hardly ever occur isolated; most of the time there is an overlap of adjacent facial clefts.


The cause of facial clefts is still unclear.

It is possible that facial clefts are caused by a disorder in the migration of neural crest cells.

Another theory is that facial clefts are caused by failure of the fusion process and failure of inwards growth of the mesoderm.

Other theories are that genetics play a part in the development of facial clefts or that they are caused by amniotic bands.


There is no single strategy for treatment of facial clefts, because of the large amount of variation in these clefts. Which kind of surgery is used depends on the type of clefting and which structures are involved. There is much discussion about the timing of reconstruction of bone and soft tissue. The problem with early reconstruction is the recurrence of the deformity due to the intrinsic restricted growth. This requires additional operations at a later age to make sure all parts of the face are in proportion. A disadvantage of early bone reconstruction is the chance to damage the tooth germs, which are located in the maxilla, just under the orbit. The soft tissue reconstruction can be done at an early age, but only if the used skin flap can be used again during a second operation. The timing of the operation depends on the urgency of the underlying condition. If the operation is necessary to function properly, it should be done at early age. The best aesthetic result is achieved when the incisions are positioned in areas which attract the least attention (they cover up the scars). If, however, the function of a part of the face isn’t damaged, the operation depends on psychological factors and the facial area of reconstruction.

The treatment plan of a facial cleft is planned right after diagnosis. This plan includes every operation needed in the first 18 years of the patient’s life to reconstruct the face fully. In this plan, a difference is made between problems that need to be solved to improve the health of the patient and problems that need to be solved for a better cosmetic result. The treatment of the facial clefts can be divided in different areas of the face: the cranial anomalies, the orbital and eye anomalies, the nose anomalies, the midface anomalies and the mouth anomalies.


Because the cause of facial clefts still is unclear, it is difficult to say what may prevent children being born with facial clefts. It seems that folic acid contributes to lowering the risk of a child being born with a facial cleft.

Congenital Hand Anomalies (Syndactyly)

Syndactyly is a condition wherein two or more digits are fused together. It occurs normally in some mammals, such as the siamang and diprotodontia, but is an unusual condition in humans.


Syndactyly can be simple or complex.

  • In simple syndactyly, adjacent fingers or toes are joined by soft tissue.
  • In complex syndactyly, the bones of adjacent digits are fused.

Syndactyly can be complete or incomplete.

  • In complete syndactyly, the skin is joined all the way to the tip of the involved digits.
  • In incomplete syndactyly, the skin is only joined part of the distance to the tip of the involved digits.

Simple syndactyly can be full or partial, and is present at birth (congenital). In early human fetal development, webbing (syndactyly) of the toes and fingers is normal. At about 6 weeks of gestation, apoptosis takes place due to a protein named sonic hedgehog, also known as SHH, which dissolves the tissue between the fingers and toes, and the webbing disappears. In some fetuses, this process does not occur completely between all fingers or toes and some residual webbing remains.