How Does a Cleft Lip and Palate Impact a Child?

cleft lip and palate

It’s likely you’ve heard of cleft lip and palate, however it only impacts around 1 in 700 children in the UK.

Cleft lip and palate are birth defects that occur when a baby’s lip or mouth do not form properly during pregnancy. Together, these birth defects commonly are called “orofacial clefts”. The two can occur separately or together in the one child.

cleft lip and palate

The lip forms between the fourth and seventh weeks of pregnancy. As a baby develops during pregnancy, body tissue and special cells from each side of the head grow toward the centre of the face and join together to make the face. This includes features like the lips. A cleft lip means that this didn’t happen fully, leaving one or two slits that can continue up into the nostril. A cleft palate occurs when the tissue that makes up the roof of the mouth does not join together completely during pregnancy.


Though it’s not that common a problem in the UK, in countries like the Philippines it’s an issue. The Philippines have the highest rate of children born with cleft lip and palate. In the UK we are fortunate enough to have the NHS who deal with children born with cleft lip and palate within the child’s first year. However poor countries do not have this option and corrective surgery is expensive, meaning children are likely to suffer with it throughout their lives. Issues children with cleft lip and palate are likely to experience include:

cleft lip and palate

• Difficulty eating and feeding. Babies with a cleft palate may be unable to breastfeed or feed from a normal bottle because they can’t form a good seal with their mouth. If they don’t have corrective surgery, they may have issues eating as they get older.
• Hearing problems. Children with cleft lip and palate are more susceptible to hearing difficulties. For example; ear infections and a build-up of fluid in their ears (glue ear), which may affect their hearing.
• Dental problems. It could mean that their teeth don’t develop correctly and put them at a higher risk of tooth decay.
• Speech difficulties. If a cleft palate isn’t repaired, it can lead to speech problems such as unclear or nasal-sounding speech when a child is older.


Although the cause is widely speculated and largely unknown, it can be related to other birth defects like 22q11 deletion syndrome (sometimes known as DiGeorge or velocardiofacial syndrome) and Pierre Robin sequence. However cases unrelated to this are a mystery. It is associated with; obesity during pregnancy, smoking and drinking during pregnancy, lack of folic acid during pregnancy and the taking of certain medicines during pregnancy.

cleft lip and palate
Ana Nolvia Lopez, Operation Smile


In the UK children with cleft lip and palate are treated at specialist NHS cleft centres. They will also usually have a long-term care plan that outlines the treatments and assessments they’re likely to need as they grow up. They will also likely need; surgery, feeding support, hearing monitoring, speech and language therapy and good monitoring of their dental hygiene. Children in less fortunate circumstances, like those in the Philippines, won’t be so lucky.

Operation Smile.

Operation Smile is a charity that works across the world to help less fortunate children with cleft lip and palate problems. They will travel to different towns and perform FREE surgeries for children with cleft lip and palate and give them back the life they deserve. However, as a charity, Operation Smile relies on donations. It costs around £185 to pay for a child’s surgery and we at are trying to raise as much as we can to make that happen!

cleft lip and palate
(Operation Smile Photo by Erin Lubin)

All you have to do is head over to the listing section of our website, search for your dentist and leave them a review. For every review, we will donate £1 to Operation Smile! All it will cost you is two minutes of your time!

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