July Is National Cleft and Craniofacial Awareness and Prevention Month

July is National Cleft and Craniofacial Awareness and Prevention Month, an effort to raise awareness and improve understanding of birth defects of the head and face, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Common craniofacial birth defects include orofacial clefts (cleft lip, cleft palate, or both).

According to Mouthhealthy.org, the ADA's consumer website, a cleft lip is a birth defect in which the parts of the face that form the upper lip remain split, instead of sealing together before birth. Similar splits can occur in the roof of the mouth or palate.

Both can present a variety of problems, including difficulty eating, speech difficulties, ear infections and misaligned teeth.

The defect may be genetic or the result of maternal environmental exposures during pregnancy. This year, the CDC is highlighting research on the association between smoking during early pregnancy and orofacial clefts.

The CDC said that although the causes of most lip and palate clefts are unknown, the 2014 Surgeon General's report confirmed that maternal smoking during early pregnancy can cause orofacial clefts in babies. In the U.S., about 7,000 babies are born with orofacial clefts each year. Women are encouraged who are thinking about becoming pregnant to quit smoking before pregnancy or as soon as they find out that they are pregnant.

In addition, it is possible to correct both cleft lip and palate through surgery, which is usually performed between the ages of 3 to 6 months. Depending on the severity of the defect, more than one surgery may be necessary.

For more information on cleft lip and palate, visit Mouthhealthy.org and search for "cleft lip and cleft palate". For more information on the National Cleft and Craniofacial Awareness and Prevention Month, visit nccapm.org.

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