Cleft Lip and Palate, Causes and Treatment

Bangladesh Craniofacial Foundation

Bangladesh Craniofacial Foundation (BCFBD) is a multi-disciplinary humanitarian foundation devoted to cleft lip and palate patients in Bangladesh. It was founded on 30th November 2021 in Dhaka, Bangladesh and it is a non-profit organization. The membership is permitted to Surgeons (Plastic Surgeons, ENT Surgeons, Oral & Maxillofacial Surgeons), Orthodontists, Speech Pathologists, Pediatricians, Anesthesiologists and Prosthodontists.


The Cleft lip and palate is one of the most common congenital abnormalities reported in Bangladesh. In Asia, there is a high prevalence of clefts around 6000 children born with cleft lip and palate in Bangladesh each year of a total population 164 million. Many of these patients don’t have access to qualified cleft treatment or can’t afford it. The goals of the BCLPF are to advance care for cleft lip and palate patients in Bangladesh and arrange meetings & conferences for discussing how to improve cleft lip & palate surgical procedure and proper treatments. Furthermore to strengthen care activity in cleft lip and palate treatment through volunteer activity and charity missions. The vision of the BCLPF is to provide support for individuals and families with cleft lip and palate patients and other craniofacial anomalies.

A non profit organization in Bangladesh

Bangladesh Cleft Lip & Palate Foundation

What Are Cleft Lip and Palate?

Cleft lip & palate is one of the most common birth defects in Bangladesh and affects more than 6000 children in the country. Unless treated cleft   lip & palate can interfere with feeding, speech development and hearing. Cleft lip & palate are birth defects that happen while a baby is developing in the uterus. During the 6th to 10th week of pregnancy, the bones and tissues of a baby’s upper jaw, nose, and mouth normally come together to form the roof of the mouth and the upper lip. If the tissue in the developing mouth and the palate don’t fuse together, a baby could be born with a condition called cleft lip & palate. The palate is the roof of the mouth and has two main parts. The front part behind the teeth is hard and the back part near the throat is soft. In babies with cleft palate, there is an opening between the roof of the mouth and the nose. This opening may be only through part of the palate (either the soft part or hard part) or through the entire palate. A complete cleft palate occurs when the left and right sides of the roof of the mouth have not fused together in the middle. In many cases, a baby born with a cleft palate also has a cleft lip.

Babies who are born with cleft lips have a gap or opening in the upper lip. A cleft lip can be either unilateral or bilateral. With a unilateral cleft lip, the gap is only on one side of the lip under either the left or right nostril and might extend into the nose. The noses of babies with unilateral cleft lips may look tilted and flat on one side. Babies born with a bilateral cleft lip have a gap on both sides of the lip, and they may have a deep split in the lip that extends into both nostrils. This may cause the nose to look broader and shorter than normal. In most cases, the cleft occurs only in the upper lip and doesn’t affect the lower lip. A person with a cleft could have only a cleft palate, only a cleft lip, or both a cleft lip and a cleft palate. Cleft lip alone and cleft lip with a cleft palate occurs more often in boys, while cleft palate without a cleft lip occurs more often in girls.

What Causes Cleft Lip & Palate?

We don’t know exactly why a baby develops cleft lip or cleft palate, but believe that it may be a combination of genetic (inherited) and environmental factors (like medications or vitamin deficiencies). Both mothers and fathers can pass on a gene or genes that cause cleft palate or cleft lip. A mother’s exposure to certain chemicals may also cause clefting. Not getting the right nutrients may increase a child’s risk of being born with a cleft ? for example, if the mother has a lack of folic acid in her diet. Finally, smoking cigarettes and use of drugs and alcohol during pregnancy increases the risk that a baby will be born with birth defects. Research has shown that moms who binge drink (drinking five or more drinks on one occasion) during the first weeks of pregnancy have a higher risk of having a baby with a facial birth defect such as cleft lip or cleft palate.

What Happens to People With Cleft Lip & Palate?

One of the first problems a baby with cleft palate might have is difficulty breathing or eating. Cleft palate usually makes breastfeeding difficult because the infant has difficulty sucking properly. The palate prevents food and liquid from going up the nose when swallowing. To prevent liquid from passing into the nose of a newborn baby with a cleft palate, a bottle with a special nipple may be used to feed the baby breast milk or formula. Kids born with cleft palate may also have frequent ear infections. That’s because air and fluid can’t pass normally through the Eustachian tubes, the tubes that connect the throat with the middle ear. This means fluid and germs can become trapped behind the eardrums and cause infection. Some people with cleft palate may have had an operation to put tubes in their ears to help the fluid drain properly. In some cases, people who have cleft palates may have hearing loss because of repeated infections and fluid behind the eardrums. Dental problems, such as cavities and missing or malformed teeth, also are common in people born with cleft lip and palate. Speaking clearly can be challenging for kids with a cleft palate. Sometimes the soft palate doesn’t move well enough to prevent air from leaking out through the nose during speech. This can cause their voices to sound as if they are speaking through their nose. If the teeth don’t line up properly, a person may not be able to pronounce certain sounds. In most children with clefts there are no other physical or learning problems. For some people, cleft palate and cleft lip may be associated with other birth defects, such as heart defects, or other physical problems, such as growth disorders and muscle weakness and some learning difficulty.

What is the Treatment of Cleft Lip & Palate?

In most cases, the clefts can be repaired beginning within the first few months of life. A cleft palate team includes the following specialists: Plastic Surgeons, ENT Surgeons and Oral & Maxillofacial Surgeons who have been treated for cleft lip or palate and have had a different experience. Today, most people born with cleft palates have surgery to close the hole in the roof of the mouth and reconnect the palate muscles between 9 and 18 months of age. This lessens the effects of the cleft palate on their speech development. People with a complete cleft lip & palate will need several surgeries to repair the cleft. These include cleft lip repair, cleft palate repair, and a bone graft to the upper jaw to close the bone gap in the gum area. In some cases, further surgery may need to be done on the palate or in the throat to improve speech. People with cleft lip or palate may spend a lot of time at the Dental Specialist and Orthodontist when they’re kids. Hearing tests to check for hearing problems and speech therapy to improve speech skills and patterns are often part of treatment, too. Although most people have these surgeries during childhood, some may also have plastic surgery during the late teen and young adult years. People who have had cleft lip and palate repair surgery as kids may look flatter in the face. They may have jaws that are not properly aligned and may have difficulty breathing through the nose. Surgery may be required on the jaws and nose to improve the bite, breathing, and facial appearance. Surgery may improve scars from previous operations.

Dealing with Cleft Lip & Palate dealing with the physical side of cleft palate can be difficult enough. But there’s also the emotional side: Because cleft lip and palate are something a person is born with and has no control over, it can seem unfair. And because appearance can become more of a focal point during the teenage years, many people with cleft lip and palate worry about how it might affect their social and emotional lives. Teens with cleft lip and palate may have had to cope with bullying or teasing. For many people, this can play havoc with self-esteem. Others find that surviving bullying gives them an inner strength and resourcefulness that other teens may not have developed. Learning to take control over how much you allow physical appearance to affect your life is a skill that people with cleft lip and palate usually develop way before their peers.