Cleft lip and cleft palate are two very different conditions and while they often coexist, children can be born with only a cleft lip or only a cleft palate. These conditions are caused by an issue with development during pregnancy. Essentially, a hole is created where there should normally be bone and muscles. In cleft lip, a hole is created between the nose and the lip through the gums and teeth but the roof of the mouth is not effected. This can happen on one or both sides of the mouth. Cleft palate is a hole in the roof of the mouth that can extend into the nasal cavity although it certainly does not have to (“Cleft Lip and Palate” 1). Below are visual examples of these conditions.
Surgeries to repair these conditions range from very simple to very complicated depending on the type and extent of the deformity. These surgeries now depend on modern techiniques but they are not new. Cleft lip repairs were first recorded in China in the fourth century B.C.E. The next recorded surgeries happened in the 13th century by a Flemish surgeron. He also pioneered the use of metal plates or cotton to close the holes in the palate that cause the speech of patients to be very nasally or soft due to the flow of air into the nose. This method was used to solve the problems until anesthesia advanced in the 19th century. Surgeries were rare because of the pain and difficulty. In the 1800s, this began to change and surgeries that closed the palate and lip began to be much more advanced, As more was learned about anatomy. These changes led to modern techniques which try to improve speech development and facial growth(Leow et al 335-6). Today, a child born with cleft lip and palate often only have a small scar on their lip and maybe slightly crooked teeth as the only visible signs of the condition. Orthodontia and plastic surgery make these things hardly noticeable. Speech therapy means that the children speak much like their peers although there is often a slightly nasal quality to their voices that is due to air escaping through the palate.