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Cleft palate is a treatable birth defect that affects the upper lip and the roof of the mouth (palate). It happens when the tissue that forms in the roof of the mouth and upper lip don’t completely fuse together before birth.

The problem can range from a small notch in the lip to a groove that runs into the roof of the mouth and nose which can affect how the child looks. It can also lead to problems with eating, talking and chronic ear infections.

Cleft Causes

There are several causes of cleft lip and palate including family history, drug and alcohol abuse, exposure to viruses or chemicals and medication a mother may have taken during her pregnancy.

In fact, in March, the FDA warned about an increased risk of oral clefts in infants exposed to Topamax or generic rivals, during the first trimester of pregnancy. Topamax is an anti-seizure medication also approved for migraine treatment.

Infants exposed to this drug as a single therapy had a 1.4 percent rate of mouth defects, which is three times more than seen with other antiepileptic drugs.

Cleft Diagnosis

A prenatal ultrasound can find cleft palate as soon as 14 to 16 weeks into the pregnancy in some cases, especially if the cleft palate is severe. However, ultrasound does not always find the problem during pregnancy.

A doctor can diagnose cleft palate by doing a physical exam of the baby’s mouth, nose and palate to confirm the presence of cleft lip or palate after birth.

Who Gets Cleft Lip and Cleft Palate?

The condition occurs more frequently in children of Asian, Latino, or Native American descent. Compared with girls, twice as many boys have a cleft lip, both with and without a cleft palate. However, compared with boys, twice as many girls have cleft palate without a cleft lip, according to WebMD.

Rate of Occurrence

An estimated 6000 children are born with cleft lip and cleft palate each year. That’s approximately 1 per 500-700 births.

For more information on cleft lip and cleft palate, visit the Cleft Palate Foundation or The Cleft Lip and Palate Foundation of Smiles.

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