Cleft and Craniofacial Awareness and Prevention Month: What You Need to Know

Published on July 10, 2017 | Dentistry for Kids

Raise awareness, educate others, and support a great cause this July.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that 7,000 babies in the United States could be born with a cleft defect each year. These defects range from congenital anomalies to life-threatening conditions that can have a permanent effect on a child’s life.

When a child is faced with craniofacial defects, they’re at a greater risk for physical, learning, developmental and/or social challenges throughout their entire life.

For National Cleft and Craniofacial Awareness and Prevent Month (NCCAPM) in July, we’d like to shed light on its significance and educate on what you can do to continue giving families the resources they need.

What Are Craniofacial and Cleft Conditions?

Craniofacial defects are conditions at birth that affect the structure and function of a newborn’s head and face, and can have a listing impact on the infant’s life. There are four types: orofacial clefts, craniosynostosis, microtia and anotia.

  • Orofacial clefts: occur when the lip and mouth don’t form properly
  • Craniosynostosis: occurs when the bones in the infant’s skull fuse too early
  • Microtia: occurs when the external portion of the ear does not properly form
  • Anotia: occurs when the external portion of the ear is missing

How Common Are These Conditions?

According to the CDC, 4,400 infants in the United States are born with a cleft lip, with or without a cleft palate, each year. And 2,700 infants are born with only a cleft palate.

And in the metropolitan city of Atlanta, Georgia about four infants in 10,000 births are born with craniosynostosis.

What Causes Cleft Lip and Cleft Palate?

Although an exact cause is yet to be determined, many researchers believe that most cases of cleft lip and cleft palate are due to an “interaction of genetic and environmental factors.

This means that a baby may inherit a gene from the mother or father that increases the chance of developing a cleft defect, and then an environmental trigger is what ultimately causes the defect to take place.

What Puts a Child at Risk?

Researchers have identified several risk factors for craniofacial defects, all of which involve women. However, all are preventable causes:

  • Diabetes: Women who are diagnosed with diabetes before pregnancy are more likely to have a baby with anotia, microtia, or a cleft lip, with or without a cleft palate.
  • Smoking: Women who smoke during the month before they become pregnant are more at risk of having a baby with a cleft lip, with or without a cleft palate.
  • Thyroid disease: Women with thyroid disease, or are treated for it while pregnant, are more at risk of having a baby with craniosynostosis.
  • Clomiphene citrate: Women who take clomiphene citrate, a fertility medicine, before or during early stages of pregnancy are more at risk for having a baby with craniosynostosis.

What Are the Symptoms of Craniofacial Defects?

Craniofacial defects are usually identified immediately upon birth. Below are some signs to look out for when determining if your baby has a cleft lip or palate:

  • Split in the lip and roof of the mouth
  • Split in the lip that looks like a small cut
  • Split in the roof of the mouth with no affect to the infant’s face
  • Split that extends from the lip into the bottom of the nose

Symptoms for submucous cleft palate, a defect that’s less likely to be seen at birth and occurs at the muscles in the back of the mouth, include:

  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Nasally voice
  • Chronic ear infections
  • Difficulty feeding

How Do You Treat Craniofacial Defects?

A cleft lip can usually be repaired within the first year of a baby’s life. For a cleft palate repair, this should occur by the age of 18 months.

However, the surgery for both defects will be based on a doctor’s recommendation that takes the baby’s health and future development into consideration. For any follow-up protocols, this usually happens between the age of two until the child’s late teenage years.

If your child has just received treatment, you’ll need to prepare yourself with the following post-operative care tips:

  • Feed your infant with a syringe fitted with a special tubing, or use a special cleft lip feeder like the Haberman feeder;
  • Visit your doctor within 7 to 10 days after the surgery to determine if any changes need to be made to your feeding regimen;
  • Avoid touching your child’s lip area, and allow dry blood to fall off on its own;
  • Use arm restraints on your child to prevent them from touching the surgical area;
  • Keep your child on his or her back when sleeping to avoid the area from rubbing onto sheets or blankets; and,
  • Use liquid acetaminophen as directed to treat your child’s pain.

How Can You Get Involved?

Throughout the month of July, there are many ways you can bring awareness to others in support of National Cleft and Craniofacial Awareness and Prevention Month.

One way is to simply share inspiring stories on your social medial channels along with posting stories to the Cleft Palate Foundation (CPF) Facebook page or engaging with Smile Train’s Instagram. There are many organizations with the mission of helping this cause.

To bring awareness locally, wear purple (the official color of NCCAPM), visit local support groups, write local newspapers, and contact state and federal representatives to bring more awareness and support to this important cause.

Or, donate to an organization like NCCAPM or CPF to continue education, resource and opportunity efforts for those born with craniofacial defects.

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Brought to you by Access Dental. Material discussed is meant for general informational purposes only and is not to be construed as tax, legal, medical or investment advice. Although the information has been gathered from sources believed to be reliable, please note that individual situations can vary. Therefore, the information should be relied upon only when coordinated with individual professional advice. #2017-42611 (exp. 6/19).

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