A cleft occurs when certain midline soft tissues do not fuse together during the development of the fetus. Clefts can involve the lip, the roof of the mouth, and the soft tissue in the back of the mouth.
Though ‘normal’ in every other sense, because of the facial deformity and speech impediment, children born with clefts are condemned to grow up as social outcasts and objects of ridicule.
Untreated clefts lead to a host of problems – both physical and psychological – that include:
- poor speech
- impaired hearing
- regurgitation of food and liquids through the nose
- frequent upper respiratory tract infections
- depression, low self-esteem
- dental and orthodontic problems
- A person with an untreated cleft has an expected life span that's statistically 14 years less than the national average.
If a child with a cleft palate is operated late, multiple surgeries & speech therapy is often needed to help eliminate any speech impediments.
Causes of clefting
The exact causes of cleft lip and palate are not known. But most experts agree that these are “multi-factorial” and may include a genetic predisposition as well as environmental issues such as drug and alcohol use, smoking, maternal illness, infections and lack of vitamin B folic acid.
A woman is at a higher risk for having a baby with a cleft if she is a teenager or over 35 years old and is exposed to teratogens, which include medications, chemicals, infectious diseases and environmental agents that can disrupt the normal development of a fetus.
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