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picture of baby with cleft lip Oral clefts occur in 1 in 790 California births: 0.9 per 1000 have cleft lip (with/without cleft palate) and 0.4 per 1000 have cleft palate alone.


Oral clefts result when tissues of the developing mouth fail to meet and fuse 5-9 weeks after conception. The cause of oral clefts is not yet well understood, but evidence points to interactions between genetic and environmental factors. Inheritance patterns and other factors suggest that cleft lip (with or without an accompanying cleft palate) and cleft palate alone are actually distinct entities.

Although occasionally diagnosed with prenatal ultrasound, there is no systematic screening for oral clefts.

Surgery to close clefts is done in infancy, but most individuals require additional operations during childhood and adolescence—often 4 surgeries before age 2. Babies with oral clefts may have feeding problems; older children often have ear infections, speech difficulties and require orthodontic treatment. The lifetime cost for medical treatment, educational services and lost productivity averages more than $101,000. About 15% of all babies with oral clefts die before age 1, usually because of associated birth defects.


bullet About 1/4 of those with cleft lip (with/without cleft palate) and half with only cleft palate have other major birth defects. reference information
bullet There is some racial/ethnic variation in oral clefts. Blacks have a lower rate of cleft lip with/without cleft palate. Whites have a higher rate of cleft palate alone. reference information
bullet Males are more likely than females to have cleft lip with or without cleft palate. Girls are more likely than boys to have cleft palate alone. reference information


Many studies by the California Birth Defects Monitoring Program look at oral clefts and factors such as nutrition, smoking and drinking, stress, and environmental concerns such as hazardous waste sites.


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bullet Study findings (environmental exposures and risk factors)
bullet Associated birth defects
bullet Racial/ethnic variation
bullet Downloadable study summaries
- PDF file Multivitamin Use and Oral
- PDF file Smoking and Oral Clefts
bullet References


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