Cleft lip/palate and other oral/facial developmental defects

The term cleft signifies a space (abnormal) or gap in a structure. In this case a cleft lip will be a gap/ abnormal space in the normal anatomy of the lip.

Should the cleft occur in the lip – cleft lip, should it occur in the palate – cleft palate. These clefts of the oral, head and neck region are mostly embryological (developmental) defects. The initial appearance most especially at birth may seem grotesque, moreso as the visual perceptions are easily felt and they reverberate. Certain syndromes can be associated with cleft lips, palate, tongue or any tissue in the orofacial region.

Parents whose babies have clefts are often in shock, sometimes culturally, ascribing it to something they have done during pregnancy. The parents however need to be informed, reassured and calmed. It is worth while that aspersions of evil nature of a ‘hapless’ baby, be stopped. The family being fed with cock and bull stories be discouraged.

The society, readers at large should be informed that clefts are correctable and several centres, bodies assist in the treatment of these conditions in Nigeria. The affected children should not be kept away in a spiritual house, stigmatised or made to feel inferior.

The general dental practitioner and indeed specialists in oral and maxillofacial surgery with other subspecialties including speech, (audio) therapist, special needs, behavioural, care workers cater for the treatment and subsequent rehabilitation of affected children. They go on to lead healthy, meaningful lives in the society. It is worthy of note that therapy could be protracted, it is best that all and sundry be informed, and fully prepared.

The problems encountered in rehabilitation is mainly that of appearance, speech, learning, feeding and swallowing.

Appearance often is the most perceptive of these problems – this is corrected mainly by surgery. This is carried out by a team of specialists from various disciplines as elaborated above. The number of professionals involved signifies the complexity of the problems encountered in oral/facial clefts varies in different parts of the world and among races.

Commonest in Asians Caucasians least common in Africa. Boys being more affected than girls.

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