July is National Cleft and Craniofacial Awareness Month
Updated: Jul 20
Cleft lip and cleft palate are the most common types of congenital facial difference, affecting roughly 1 in 700 children worldwide. Each year in the U.S., thousands of babies are born with an oral cleft, which occurs when tissue in the baby’s upper lip or roof of the mouth does not join together completely during pregnancy.
The opening in a cleft lip can be a small slit or a large split that extends from the lip into the nose. The cleft can be on one side or both sides of the lip, or in the middle. The opening in a cleft palate may affect the front, or back, or both parts of the palate.
Research suggests that the majority of cases appear to be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors during the early part of pregnancy. Clefts can commonly appear with other medical conditions that affect the face and head structure. About 30% of cleft defects are associated with a genetic syndrome such as Apert syndrome, Pierre Robin sequence, Treacher-Collins syndrome, Van der Woude syndrome, and many others. Children with a cleft lip or a cleft palate may have problems eating and breathing, and are also more likely to have ear infections, hearing loss, and problems with their teeth. As they grow older, they may also have speech and language delays.
Treatment for children with cleft lip or palate can depend on the size of the cleft and whether there are additional problems related to a genetic syndrome. Surgery is often used to close the cleft, and is usually done very early in the child's life. Sometimes multiple surgeries are needed, as well as special dental care and speech therapy. With treatment, most children with cleft lip or palate do well and lead a healthy life.
Regardless of facial appearance, every person deserves to be treated fairly and equally. The value of every person should be determined by their unique contribution to society, not by how they look. People with facial differences tend to experience a lot of bullying, teasing, discrimination and questions about their appearance. If you meet someone who looks different from you, it can be tempting to stare from a distance. Instead, you can say "Hi" and maybe make a new friend! People who have facial differences aren't scary or unworthy of human connection. It's important to make sure everyone feels welcome and appreciated for their contribution to the world!
Children’s Craniofacial Association (CCA Kids), is a national nonprofit headquartered in Dallas and founded in 1989. They have worked for over 27 years toward the vision of a world where all people are accepted for who they are, not how they look. www.facebook.com/ccakids/
Discover their collection of overviews to help you learn more about treatment and care for craniofacial conditions. www.ccakids.org/one-sheet-overviews
FACES: The National Craniofacial Association is dedicated to assisting children & adults who have craniofacial differences resulting from disease, accident, or birth. www.faces-cranio.org
American Cleft Palate-Craniofacial Association. ACPA Family Services provides crucial information for families, patients and professionals. Patients and families should be accurately informed in every stage of cleft or craniofacial care. ACPA Family Services also offers personalized support online and by phone. www.acpa-cpf.org/acpa-family-services/family-resources