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Saturday, 16 October 2021
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Cleft lip and palate – 5 facts that will probably surprise you

JULY marked Cleft Awareness Month. Even though more than 200,000 new babies with clefts are born globally each year, many people are still unaware of what cleft lip and palate is and the impact it can have.

To help raise further awareness of the condition, here Susannah Schaefer, President and CEO of the international children’s cleft charity Smile Train, shares five facts about cleft lip and palate which you might be interested to know.

FACT 1 A CLEFT LIP AND A CLEFT PALATE ARE NOT THE SAME

Susannah Schaefer said:

“A cleft lip occurs when the structures that form the upper lip do not fuse together properly in the womb. It can either be a small notch, or a wide gap that reaches the nose and can affect either one or both sides of the lip.

“A cleft palate occurs when the roof of the mouth does not form properly. It can either be a hole or opening in the roof or top of the mouth.

“A baby can be born with a cleft lip, or a cleft palate, or both.”

Cleft lip and palate - 5 facts that will probably surprise you
Osawa 8 months after surgery

FACT 2 – CLEFTS ARE MORE COMMON THAN YOU THINK

Susannah Schaefer said:

“There are more than 200,000 babies born with a cleft lip and/or palate every year around the world. In fact, a baby is born with a cleft every three minutes.

“Many people in the UK are surprised by this fact, largely because treatment is offered for free through the NHS and is typically performed shortly after the baby is born – so it’s rare to see children with untreated clefts here.

“However, for babies born with a cleft in other countries around the world, access to quality healthcare is limited, which means that they may grow up without proper cleft treatment.

“Thankfully, Smile Train empowers local medical professionals with training, funding, and resources so that they can go on to provide 100% free cleft surgery and comprehensive cleft care within their communities, transforming the lives of these children by giving them a new forever smile.”

FACT 3 – IN SOME AREAS OF THE WORLD, CHILDREN BORN WITH A CLEFT ARE ISOLATED

Susannah Schaefer said:

“Sadly there are some parts of the world where children are shunned or isolated by their communities if they are born with a cleft because they are ‘different’.

“For example, in Ethiopia, some people mistakenly believe that a curse causes a baby to be born with a cleft. It can, therefore, be very difficult for families that have children with a cleft in this country – as they feel they need to hide their children away.

“For this reason, it is imperative that people in countries around the world are properly educated on the condition – and have access to the proper treatment and care that they need. Smile Train works to raise awareness about cleft so that people in these communities are helped rather than shunned.”

FACT 4 – A CLEFT CAN CAUSE ISSUES BEYOND COSMETIC CONCERN

Susannah Schaefer said:

“Many people are surprised to learn that a cleft causes serious problems beyond cosmetic concerns. This includes difficulties with eating, breathing, speaking, hearing, and dental health.

“Because of these difficulties, it’s vital that babies born with a cleft receive care beyond the surgery, including nutrition services, speech and language therapy, and dental services – to help alleviate the associated issues caused by cleft which often cannot be treated through surgery alone.”

FACT 5 – CLEFTS CAN BE TREATED

Susannah Schaefer said:

“In as little as 45 minutes, a simple cleft surgery can change a child’s life forever. During cleft surgery, the surgeon will join the tissues that did not fuse properly during birth – providing immediate transformation.

“While surgery for both cleft lip and palate should be carried out shortly after birth, it can still be successful when carried out at later ages.”

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