Research says family members of children with oral clefts do not have a higher risk of developing dental irregularities

A study published in the July issue of Journal of Dental Research reports that most family members of children with oral clefts do not have a significantly higher risk of developing dental abnormalities than the general population.

Cleft lip and cleft palate are facial and oral malformations that occur very early in pregnancy, while the baby is developing inside the mother. Clefting results when there is not enough tissue in the mouth or lip area, and the tissue that is available does not join together properly. A cleft lip is a physical split of the two sides of the upper lip and a cleft palate is a split in the roof of the mouth.

Researchers from the University of Iowa and the University of Pittsburgh conducted the study.

The research team, led by Dr. Brian J. Howe, adjunct assistant professor in the College of Dentistry at the University of Iowa, studied 3,811 participants: 660 affected children; 1,922 unaffected family members; and 1,229 children without oral clefts and their immediate family members.

The authors evaluated whether participants had dental irregularities such as tooth displacement through medical exams or intraoral photography. They learned that affected children had higher rates of dental irregularities in the upper jaw but not the lower jaw than did control participants. According to the results, abnormalities were more prevalent in participants with cleft lip and cleft palate, and more irregularities occurred on the same side as the cleft. The higher prevalence of abnormalities in affected children was generally because of the cleft and surgical interventions.

The researchers reported that unaffected siblings and parents had higher levels of abnormalities than control participants, but concluded that these differences were insignificant.

Grants from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research of the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention funded the study.

The study can be seen in its entirety at

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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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Cleft lip and palate are birth defects that occur because a baby’s lip or mouth does not form properly during pregnancy. A cleft lip is an upper lip that is split. It is caused by the failure of the tissue of the lip to join. A cleft palate occurs when the tissue that makes up the roof of the mouth does not come together.