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July is Time to Learn About Cleft and Craniofacial Anomalies


July is National Cleft and Craniofacial Awareness and Prevention Month, a time to improve understanding of orofacial conditions of the head and face, including clefts of the lip and palate.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that every year in the United States approximately 2,600 babies are born with a cleft palate and 4,400 babies are born with a cleft lip (with or without a cleft palate). These conditions occur when tissue in the baby’s upper lip or roof of the mouth does not join together completely during pregnancy. Other craniofacial birth anomalies involve the skull, ears, and eyes.

Children with craniofacial conditions often have trouble eating, experience impaired language development, and are at greater risk for ear infections and hearing issues, as well as problems with their teeth.

Clefts, the most prevalent of the craniofacial birth defects, are usually repaired surgically in the first year of life, but some children require additional surgeries and ongoing treatments to correct problems with breathing, eating, and/or speech development. According to the American Cleft Palate-Craniofacial Association, children born with cleft palates or lips are cared for by a multidisciplinary team which usually consists of a plastic surgeon, speech language pathologist, and craniofacial orthodontist.

While medical professionals agree there is no single factor that causes craniofacial abnormalities, it is believed there could be many contributing influences:

  • Genes—A child may receive a particular combination of genes from one or both parents, or there may be a change in the genes at the time of conception.
  • Environmental—The effect of environmental exposures is not fully understood, but may play a role, especially in combination with genetic abnormalities. The CDC has linked maternal smoking during pregnancy with clefts.
  • Folic acid deficiency—Folic acid is a B vitamin found in orange juice; fortified breakfast cereals; enriched grain products; and green, leafy vegetables. Studies have shown that women who do not get sufficient folic acid during pregnancy may have a higher risk of having a baby with certain congenital anomalies, including cleft lip and cleft palate.

Members of Jefferson’s Department of Otolaryngology travel to Haiti to provide complex head and neck care to those in need.

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