Cleft lip and cleft palate are facial malformations that occur early in pregnancy.
A cleft lip is a physical separation of the two sides of the upper lip. This separation may also extend into the base of the nose and include the bases of the upper jaw and/or gum.
A cleft palate is a split in the roof of the mouth. It can involve the hard palate (the bony portion of the roof of the mouth and/or the soft palate the soft back portion of the mouth).
Cleft lip and cleft palate can occur on one or both sides of the mouth. As the lip and palate develop separately, it is possible to have a cleft lip without a cleft palate, a cleft palate without a cleft lip or both a cleft lip and cleft palate. Cleft lip and/or cleft palate occurs in approximately one in 300 children born annually. The cause is not known.
Cleft lip and/or palate is thought to occur more frequently in developing countries than here in Australia.
Children born with this malformation may have eating problems as food and drink can pass from the mouth to the nose. They are at increased risk of hearing problems and speech difficulties. In developing countries such as the Philippines these children, born to poor, indigent families will not be able to go to school and face enormous hurdles in having a normal life. In Australia such children are treated within the first year of their life.