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What Is Bilateral Cleft Lip?

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Medically Reviewed By Colgate Global Scientific Communications

Doctors can diagnose your baby with cleft lip using prenatal ultrasound as early as 13 weeks, so you have time to educate yourself on cleft lip and prepare for your child's treatment. Did you know cleft lip can be either unilateral or bilateral? Learn the difference between unilateral and bilateral cleft lip and how it impacts your baby's oral health and treatment.

Unilateral vs. Bilateral Cleft Lip

A cleft lip occurs when the tissues on each side of the baby's head do not join completely, leaving an opening in the upper lip. The opening can be a microform cleft lip — which appears as a vertical scar from the lip to the nostril — or a large gap that goes into the nose. If the cleft extends into the root of the mouth, this is known as a cleft lip and palate.

Sometimes, a baby is born with two clefts, called bilateral cleft lip, which divides the lip into three sections. Similar to unilateral cleft lip, these clefts can range from a small slit to an opening that extends into the palate. The two clefts can also appear symmetrical or asymmetrical, with a larger gap on one side than the other.

Another difference between unilateral and bilateral cleft lip is that the multiple clefts can cause the prolabium (the central part of the upper lip) and the premaxilla (the small bones at the front of the upper jaw) to protrude forward and downward. A bilateral cleft lip might also lead the nasal tip to flatten and the columella (the bridge of tissue that separates your nostrils) to shorten. This can make the surgical repair more difficult.

Bilateral Cleft Lip Causes

Though a lot remains unknown when it comes to causes of bilateral cleft lip, researchers have identified some factors that seem to increase the chance of having a baby with an orofacial cleft. A minority of cases seem to have a genetic component and parents with a family history of orofacial clefts might pass these genes down to their children. Certain behaviors during pregnancy — such as smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol, and taking certain medications — are also linked to an increased risk of having a baby born with a cleft. Finally, women diagnosed with diabetes or obesity are also more likely to have a child with a cleft lip.

Bilateral Cleft Lip Repair and Oral Care

The good news is that bilateral cleft lip repair is highly treatable. A team of experts — including plastic surgeons, ear, nose, and throat specialists, pediatric dentists, and more — will work together to perform the necessary surgeries to correct your child's bilateral cleft lip, attain a normal appearance, and improve their ability to eat, speak, and smile.

Malpositioned, malformed, or missing teeth commonly occur with bilateral cleft lip, but your child can still have a healthy smile with good oral care. You might wish to find a pediatric dentist with experience treating babies and children with orofacial clefts. Combine regular visits to the dentist with fluoride treatments, thorough cleanings, and a healthy diet to reduce the risk of dental problems.

You can use your understanding of bilateral cleft lip to find the right team of specialists and provide timely care for your little one. With the help of highly skilled medical professionals, your child can overcome bilateral cleft lip with minimal impact on appearance or oral health.


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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.

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