What Is Bilateral Cleft Lip?

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Cleft lip is a common, treatable birth condition that can affect one or both sides of the upper lip. Whereas a single cleft is called unilateral cleft lip, clefts that occur on both sides are called bilateral cleft lip. The cause of cleft lip is occasionally clear, but why they develop is often unknown. Nonetheless, any infant can be born with an oral cleft.

Unilateral vs. Bilateral Cleft Lip

When the parts of the lip fail to close in early pregnancy, cleft lip is the natural result, and its effects vary widely between the unilateral and bilateral. The cleft may produce small, hardly noticeable notches or grooves, or extensive clefts that cause a bigger cosmetic problem. When the cleft extends into the roof of the mouth, the condition is called cleft lip and palate. Sometimes, however, only the palate has a cleft and the lips have grown in whole.

If the cleft lip is bilateral, it's likely that the palate also has a cleft. Seattle Children's Hospital states 86 percent of bilateral cleft lips occur with cleft palate, but only 68 percent of unilateral cleft lips extend to the palate. Bilateral cleft lip, however, is relatively unusual; unilateral cleft lips occur nine times more frequently.

Although bilateral clefts can be symmetrical, the appearance on both sides of the mouth isn't always the same. It may be asymmetrical, perhaps with a groove on one side of the mouth and a cleft on the other. The International Craniofacial Institute explains that, in another difference between unilateral and bilateral cleft lip and palate, part of the mouth can overgrow with bilateral clefts. When a bilateral cleft extends between the front teeth, the area in the center of both clefts can protrude forward and downward into what is called a prolabium, meaning it's in front of the lips.

Cleft Lips Causes

The minority of cleft lips are inherited. In fact, the condition has a variety of other possible causes. According to the University of Missouri Children's Hospital, maternal age, environment and exposure to certain drugs and chemicals can all play a role in the occurrence of unilateral or bilateral forms of an oral cleft. The University of Virginia School of Medicine also warns of exposure to rubella (or German measles) during pregnancy, as well as smoking, alcohol usage and vitamin deficiencies. In many cases, of course, the cause is still unknown.

Oral Care

Malpositioned, malformed and missing teeth are a regular result of unilateral and bilateral cleft lip and palate, but it is possible to have healthy teeth with good oral care despite this defect. The Cleft Palate Foundation recommends visiting a dentist with experience in treating babies and children with clefts. Fluoride treatments, thorough cleaning and a healthy diet are just as essential for reducing the risks of dental problems. As soon as the primary teeth appear, they should still be brushed twice a day with a soft-bristled toothbrush such as Colgate® My First® Toothbrush, and the first dental visit should occur by the first birthday – or earlier if there are other outstanding problems.

Today, special teams can provide treatment for cleft lip to minimize its effects on appearance, health and important abilities such as chewing and speaking. Timely care from these medical professionals can ensure any child with unilateral or bilateral cleft lip suffers few to no long-term effects.