Cleft lip: what is it?

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Cleft lip is a common birth defect where the upper lip is partially divided, often treated with plastic surgery. It can cause physical, social, and emotional problems if left untreated, especially in developing nations where medical care may be inaccessible. The cause is unknown, but it can be identified on ultrasound scans, and early treatment is recommended to reduce potential health problems and teasing.

A cleft lip is a congenital malformation in which the upper lip is partially divided. This condition, more properly known as a cleft lip, can cause the lip to tear up to the nostrils on one or both sides of the lip, or it can cause more minor deformities, which can be as subtle as small dents in the lip. Sometimes it appears in combination with a cleft palate, a condition in which the palate is not fully united.

Cleft lip is among the most common birth defects worldwide and is often treated within days or months of birth. In the developed world, where such surgery is routine, seeing an adult with cleft lip and palate is extremely rare. In developing nations, people may be unable to access medical care for cleft palate, resulting in physical, social and emotional problems. Several voluntary medical organizations provide free cleft lip and palate procedures to residents of developing nations as a charity.

The cause of cleft lip is not understood. Normally, the left and palate fuse into solid pieces during fetal development, as indicated by the groove above the lip known as the philtrum where these tissues meet, but in some cases they do not. Lack of fusion can be caused by a lack of tissue in the area, substances ingested by the mother, or an abnormal case. Parents who have a child with a cleft lip or cleft palate should certainly not beat themselves up about it, as the condition could not have been prevented in most cases.

This birth defect can sometimes be seen on ultrasound scans and, if not identified at this stage, will be recognized at birth. Parents have the option of treating the cleft lip or leaving it untreated. Most parents opt for treatment to reduce potential health problems such as difficulty eating, increased risk of tooth decay, and increased incidence of ear infections. Additionally, cleft lip surgery can spare a child from teasing, teasing, or other rude behavior from people who are disturbed by the sight of a cleft lip.

Correction of a cleft lip can be done with plastic surgery. A small scar forms after the surgery but slowly disappears with age. Cleft palate can be repaired surgically or with the use of orthodontic appliances that encourage the palate to fuse together. The sooner the condition is treated, the less extreme the scar will be. The patient may also be more comfortable socially, and surgery when a child is pre-verbal will prevent the speech defects associated with cleft lip and palate.

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