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National Cleft and Craniofacial Awareness Month

Craniofacial disorders require a comprehensive care plan following surgery.

The word “craniofacial” refers to the head, skull, face, neck, and jaws. A cleft lip and palate is one of the most common birth defects that affect the face, occurring in about 1 of 700 live births worldwide.

Craniofacial disorders are a deeply personal matter, and can be difficult to discuss. This July, is the month to provide more information about the disorders that can affect this region, and how to better understand them.

What is a craniofacial disorder?

While cleft lip and palate is one of the most common and well-known birth defects, there exist other, more rare conditions that affect the craniofacial facial region. Most affect how a person’s head or face develops. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 2,650 babies are born with a cleft palate and 4,440 are born with a cleft lip each year.

Cleft and craniofacial conditions result from an aberration in the baby’s development in the womb, whether that’s because of a genetic syndrome, or environmental factors relating to the mother’s health during pregnancy. It could be an isolated phenomena or one aspect of an inherited disease.

At the beginning of any pregnancy, there is a split (cleft) between each side of the lip and the roof of the mouth (palate). Normally, they conjoin during the 6th and 11th week of pregnancy. When this doesn’t happen, a baby is born with cleft lip or cleft palate.

Cleft palate describes a condition in which the two plates of the skull that form the roof of the mouth (or “hard palate”) are not completely joined.  Many times, babies born with cleft palate also have cleft lip, an opening or gap in the upper lip. Usually, the cleft is only present in the upper lip but in some cases it can affect the bottom lip.

More excellent resources on this important topic:

  • MedlinePlus: Cleft Lip and Palate
    The NIH National Library of Medicine’s collection of links to government, professional and non-profit/voluntary organizations with information on cleft lip and palate.
  • MedlinePlus: Craniofacial Abnormalities
    The NIH National Library of Medicine’s collection of links to government, professional and non-profit/voluntary organizations with information on craniofacial abnormalities.
  • Facts About Cleft Lip and Palate
    Information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on causes, risk factors, diagnosis, and treatment.
  • American Cleft Palate-Craniofacial Association (ACPA)
    ACPA is an association of interested individuals and healthcare professionals who treat and/or perform research on oral cleft and craniofacial conditions. ACPA works to support the care of individuals affected by cleft and craniofacial conditions.
  • FACES: The National Craniofacial Association
    This organization serves children and adults throughout the United States with severe craniofacial differences resulting from birth defects, injuries, or disease.
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