Cleft lip and cleft palate are openings or splits in the upper lip, the roof of the mouth (palate) or both. Cleft lip and cleft palate occur early in pregnancy when tissues in an unborn baby’s face and mouth don’t close completely. Normally, the tissues that make up the lip and palate fuse together in the second and third months of pregnancy. But in babies with cleft lip and cleft palate, the fusion never takes place or occurs only part way, leaving an opening (cleft).

Overview and Symptoms

Most cases of cleft lip and cleft palate are noticed immediately at birth and don’t require special tests for diagnosis. Cleft lip and cleft palate are also commonly diagnosed prenatally on ultrasound before the baby is born. Symptoms may appear as:

  • A split in the lip and roof of the palate that can affect one or both sides of the face.
  • A split in the lip that can extend from the lip through the upper gum and palate into the bottom of the nose.
  • A split in the roof of the mouth.

Treatment

The goals of treatment for cleft lip and cleft palate are to improve the ability to eat, speak and hear normally and to achieve a normal facial appearance. Cleft lip and cleft palate is normally treated with surgery, with potential follow-up surgeries performed to improve speech or appearance of the lip and nose. This can often be done with minimal scarring.

Learn More

The Division of General Surgery offers a complete range of surgical services, including the latest minimally invasive approaches, for patients with a wide range of general surgical disorders.

General Surgery