There used to be commercials about it all the time. “Come! Donate money to these deformed children in third world countries.” But the truth is that cleft lips and cleft palates can happen to anyone, even here in the wealthy Western world. In fact, it not only can happen, it does. Clefts are the #4 most common birth defect in the United States, affecting 1 in 700 babies each year.
What Causes the Cleft?
The cleft occurs very early on in a child’s prenatal life. If there is not enough tissue in the mouth area, it will not join together correctly, leaving a large gap either in the lip or in the roof of the mouth.
But what causes this to occur? There are a couple of factors that make it more likely.
Perhaps one of the reasons why children in poorer countries have a cleft lip, children who come from Asian, Latino or Native American ancestry are more likely to develop clefts.
There is an interesting gender divide when it comes to clefts. Boys are twice as likely to have a cleft lip, no matter the situation with the palate. Girls, however, are twice as likely to have a cleft palate—and only a cleft palate.
Despite these statistics and the common nature of this birth defect, there are not any sure known causes for cleft lip and palate. It is believed to be a combination of genetics and environment, nature and nurture you could say. Some possible contributors include medications taken by the mother and viruses in the womb. That being said, however, there is no way to prevent clefts from forming. It does appear to be somewhat genetic in that if someone else in the family has a cleft lip, the new baby is more likely to develop one as well.
Even though it is impossible to completely predict, clefts are a common enough birth defect that you should be prepared. Be ready to treat and teach your children about this birth defect very soon.