What Are Clefts?

1 in 700 babies are born with a cleft lip and/or palate globally. Clefts cause difficulties eating, breathing, hearing, and speaking.

three children with cleft in DRC
A girl from Pakistan with a cleft lip

What are cleft lips and palates?

A cleft occurs when certain body parts and structures do not fuse together during fetal development. Clefts can involve the lip and/or the roof of the mouth, which is made up of both hard and soft palate. Around the world, many children with clefts will never receive the reconstructive surgery they need.

father holding his daughter with a cleft lip

How common are clefts?

There are varying opinions on the actual incidence of clefts, but most experts agree that, in part, it depends on ethnicity. Some experts say that the highest cleft incidences are among Asians (approximately 1 in 500 births). Caucasians have an average incidence of 1 in 700 births and individuals of African descent have the lowest incidence of approximately 1 in 1,200 births.

a girl with a cleft from Indonesia

What are the causes of cleft lip and palate?

No one knows exactly, but most experts agree that the causes of cleft lip and/or palate are multifactorial and may include a genetic predisposition as well as environmental issues such as drug and alcohol use, smoking, maternal illness, infections, or lack of Vitamin B, also known as folic acid. In most cases, it is not known what has caused a cleft lip and/or palate, but research is ongoing to better understand the condition.

young man at school with an untreated cleft

What does it mean to be a child with an untreated cleft?

Children with untreated clefts face physical difficulties eating, breathing, hearing, and speaking. Cleft treatment alleviates many of these difficulties, ultimately enabling them to thrive.

A boy is happy after his cleft surgery

Can clefts be treated?

Reconstructive surgery for clefts has evolved over more than half a century, and today’s techniques and procedures have come a long way. The surgery today is simple and the transformation is immediate. Patients see their smile for the first time, parents cry tears of joy, and lives and communities are changed forever.