young child under a blanket

Is Cleft Lip Genetic?

Are you an expectant parent or planning on being one soon? As a parent-to-be, it is natural to worry about the health of your baby. A cleft lip may be a concern you have, but knowing more about this can help to reduce the risk for your child. There are many factors, including family history, that can increase the likelihood of a baby developing a cleft lip. Here's what you need to know about the causes of cleft lip.

What is Cleft Lip?

The lips form between the fourth and seventh week of pregnancy, as the developing tissue begins to grow and merge towards the centre of the face. When these developing tissues do not join completely, a split or separation occurs, resulting in a cleft lip. A cleft can be on one side of the lip, both, or sometimes in the middle. In more severe cases, the split can expand into the nose. Some infants with a cleft lip may have openings in their palates, but a cleft lip can occur without this additional defect.

Fortunately, your doctor can determine if your child will have a cleft lip through an ultrasound. The ultrasound is helpful, as the doctors will immediately coordinate your baby's care with a team of medical and dental professionals who specialise in treating cleft lip. When the baby is born, they may need to undergo surgery to repair the cleft lip; this usually happens before their first birthday.

What Causes Cleft Lip?

The cause of cleft lip is often unknown in most children. However, family history and genetics can affect a child's risk of developing one. Most orofacial clefts are caused by the interaction between genetic and environmental factors. Early studies into the causes of orofacial clefts, cleft lip with/without cleft palate, and cleft palate alone have looked at candidate genes and how they contribute to this condition. Multiple genes have been associated with cleft lip and cleft palates. Continuous studies are looking into the role of smoking, particularly in relation to maternal smoking. Also, the use of folic acid supplementation is being examined to determine if this can reduce the incidence of nonsyndromic cleft lip and cleft palate.

Growing Up With A Cleft

If your baby is born with cleft lips, there are some challenges they may face. Depending on the severity of the cleft, a child may have difficulties with speech and eating. Luckily surgery and speech therapy can help resolve these difficulties.

Also, children with clefts may experience oral health problems like extra, missing, or malformed teeth. They often have more cavities than other children and may need braces to help correct their adult teeth. Regularly visit your dentist and orthodontist to monitor your child's oral health.

Many factors contribute to cleft lip, and genetics is one of them. However, environmental factors, smoking, diabetes, and certain medications can affect your baby's health. If you are thinking about having a baby, be sure to discuss your concerns and any environmental risks that could affect your child with a doctor.


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This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.