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What Causes a Cleft Palate

A cleft is a fissure, or an opening, that may occur in the lip or palate of a person. A cleft palate is when the two plates from the skull that form the hard roof of the mouth do not fully fuse together. This causes a gap between these plates, which is known as a cleft palate. The condition can occur just in the soft palate which is called an incomplete cleft or can occur in both palates and include the jaw. Many people born with a cleft palate also have a cleft lip. Cleft palates which include the lip can be unilateral or bilateral. This condition occurs in approximately one in 700 births worldwide.

What causes a cleft palate?
Unfortunately, the cause of a cleft palate is not fully understood. Medical science points to genetic factors and environmental influences, but there is not set proof for either of these factors. A small chance exists for a cleft palate to be passed on from parents to child, but two thirds of cases have no family history of a cleft palate. There are some syndromes which are more likely to cause cleft such as Stickler’s Syndrome, Loeys-Dietz syndrome and Hardikar syndrome.

Some research has also suggested that environmental influences may have some impact on the development of a cleft palate. A baby’s palate and lips form during the first 6 to 8 weeks of life. The fetus is very susceptible during this stage to negative environmental factors such as cigarette smoke, alcohol, pesticide exposure and lack of vitamin and minerals in the mother’s diet. However, there is no medical proof to substantiate this idea.

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