What is Cleft and How can it be Prevented/Cured?

Cleft Correction in Tamil Nadu, India - Anamaya Indo Pacific

Image Credit: Anamaya Indo Pacific Facebook page.

Summary: Cleft is an opening that appears in-between the upper lip and the nose (on the outside) or/and on the upper mouth (on the inside). Clefts develop in babies during early pregnancy due to factors like genetics, bad eating/drinking choices, medication side effects, or even due to diabetes. Clefts can be prevented by taking pre-conception folic acid supplements, or after birth via surgery and therapies.

What is Cleft?

Cleft is a birth defect in kids that happens because the skin/tissues that should have surrounded the lip/mouth area did not connect fully during the early-stage pregnancy. It appears as a hole/opening on the upper lip area or upper mouth area, or both.

What are the Issues Children Face due to Cleft?

  • Speech issues
  • Tooth growth problems
  • Frequent fluid in the ears
  • Difficulty in eating/drinking
  • Physical feature deformation that induces societal/psychological stigma

What are the Major Causes of Cleft in kids?  

While the exact cause of cleft is not well known, researchers have mentioned that the most probable reasons for cleft in children could be genetic factors (someone in the family tree might have had it and they pass it via genes), poor food/drink choices (bad habits like smoking and drinking especially during pregnancy increases the chances of cleft in babies), medication side effects (certain medicines taken during pregnancy might induce side effects that become the cause for cleft), and even simple conditions like diabetes and over-weight.

Does Cleft affect both boys and girls? 

Yes. However, boys have a higher chance of getting affected by cleft than girls.

Is Cleft diagnosed Before child birth or After?

Both. Lip Cleft (that occurs on the lips and is easily visible) can be diagnosed before birth via ultrasound scanning. Cleft Palate (that occurs inside the mouth) can be diagnosed after child birth. Some babies have both but some are affected by only one of the above conditions.

Can Cleft be Prevented?

Yes, there is suggested preventive medication available for cleft. Women who take folic acid supplements before and during their pregnancy (especially during early stage pregnancy) have better chances of giving birth to children without facial cleft.

Folic acid (a man-made form of Vitamin B) supplements and fortified cereal also offer other benefits to women who consume them before and during pregnancy. It can prevent birth defects in spinal cord and brain. It can also help in the production of RBCs (Red Blood Cells) that are critical for good health and to fight various infections/diseases. Folic acid is naturally found in certain vegetables, fruits and cereals. Or, one can consume it as a supplement (pills) along with pre-natal vitamin, as well.

If you are located in Chennai or Tamil Nadu have a look at the good work done by Anamaya Indo Pacific founded by Dr. Shreekala, BDS. It is an NGO committed to the cause of prevention of birth defects in children. They are running a multi-center cleft prevention program in India in association with the International Cleft Foundation. Do consult them for more information on cleft preventive measures and treatment.

Can Cleft be cured After child birth? 

In most of the cases, cleft can be cured to a reasonable level, even post child birth. Treatment may involve few surgeries spread over a few years starting from the first year of the child. It generally involves medical fraternity from multiple disciplines. It is possible to achieve near-normal speech, hearing, breathing, eating and appearance for cleft-affected kids via medical intervention.

Who are the Medical Professionals involved in Cleft Treatment?

Some medical professionals involved in the treatment of lip cleft and palate cleft include Dental Professionals, Orthodontists, Pediatricians, Oral Pathologists, Speech Therapists,  Epidemiologists, Gynecologists, Plastic Surgeons, Maxillofacial Surgeons, Geneticists, etc.

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