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What is a cleft lip and / or palate?

Children can be born with different kinds of clefts. A cleft is a gap or split in the upper lip (cleft lip) and / or roof of the mouth (cleft palate).

A cleft of the lip can be on one side (unilateral) or both sides (bilateral). It can be as small as a notch, or may extend up into the nose. It may also involve a gap in the gum.

Most typically, these can be:

  • Cleft lip (unilateral or bilateral)
  • Cleft palate
  • Cleft lip and palate
  • Submucous cleft palate
  • Non-cleft palatal problems

The palate consists of two parts:

  1. The hard palate towards the front
  2. The soft palate towards the back

The soft palate is made up of muscles, which move and help with speech by controlling the direction of air into the nose or mouth. Some clefts only go part of the way through the palate while others may go all the way through the lip, gum and palate.

How common is cleft lip and / or palate?

Cleft lip and / or palate is a relatively common condition, occurring in approximately 1 in 700 babies born within the UK.

At the Spires Cleft Centre, we see 80 – 100 new referrals per year.

What causes cleft lip and palate?

In most children we have no idea why a cleft happens, but we know that it develops at about the fifth to twelfth week of pregnancy. In very rare instances certain drugs taken in early pregnancy may cause it and occasionally it may be passed down in the family.