Approximately 1 in 1,000 babies in the United States each year is born with an upper lip and mouth that doesn’t form completely, a condition known as cleft lip or cleft palate. This malformation often happens early in pregnancy, generally between the 6th and 10th weeks of gestation, and can range from mild to severe. July is National Cleft and Craniofacial Awareness and Prevention Month, so to bring awareness to this issue, we want to look at what causes oral clefts and how to help prevent them.
What Causes Cleft Lip & Palate?
During the first 6 to 10 weeks of pregnancy, the bones and skin of a baby’s upper jaw, nose, and mouth normally come together to form the roof of the mouth and the upper lip. A cleft palate happens when parts of the roof of the mouth do not fuse together completely.
Unfortunately, doctors and researchers are not 100% sure what causes oral clefts, but some believe that there are factors that can increase the risk. In general, male babies are more likely to develop an oral cleft; the other factors are usually genetic and environmental, and can include:
- A family history of oral clefts
- Substance use during pregnancy
- Nutrient deficiency, specifically of folic acid
- Having diabetes before pregnancy
- Use of certain anti-seizure medications
- Obesity during pregnancy
- Certain infections
- Asian, Hispanic, or Native American descent
What Other Conditions Are Associated with Cleft Lip & Palate?
If your baby is born with an oral cleft, there could be some other complications that go beyond the physical appearance of the cleft lip and palate. Babies born with this condition can also experience:
- Hearing difficulties
- Speech difficulties
- Difficulty feeding
- Ear infections
- Dental issues
Are Oral Clefts Preventable?
Cleft lip and palate are typically not preventable, but there are things you can do to help lower the risks of your baby developing this condition. These things include avoiding alcohol and smoking during pregnancy, maintaining a healthy weight before pregnancy, and taking at least 400 micrograms of folic acid a day before conception. It is important to note that, even if you do follow all of the recommendations for preventing oral clefts, and you still find out that your baby has developed one, it’s not your fault: this condition can happen regardless of the choices you make.
Treatment for Cleft Lips & Palates
Children born with cleft lips and palates will need several treatments as they grow. Generally, the cleft is treated with surgery, followed by speech therapy and dental care. But before your child has surgery, there are a few techniques that can improve the outcome of the repair, including:
- A lip-taping regimen, which can narrow the gap in your child’s cleft lip.
- A nasal elevator, which is used to help form the correct shape of the baby’s nose.
- A nasal-alveolar molding (NAM) device, which can be used to help mold the lip tissues into a more favorable position in preparation for the lip repair.
Around 30-40% of children with a cleft palate will need further surgeries to help improve their speech, usually after their speech is assessed between ages 4 and 5. Repairing a cleft might seem like a long process, but most children will end up being able to talk and eat without any issues with the help of surgeries and therapies.
Finding Health Insurance Coverage
One of the most important factors in getting the help your child needs for their cleft is your health insurance plan. Before purchasing a plan, make sure you understand what coverage it offers, and make sure it will cover evaluation and treatment for a cleft.
If you’re not sure what plan is right for you, speak to an EZ agent! EZ agents are highly trained and knowledgeable, and will sort through all available plans to make sure that you’re completely covered throughout the lengthy process of repairing your child’s cleft.
We offer a wide range of health insurance plans from top-rated insurance companies in every state. And because we work with so many companies, and can offer all of the plans available in your area, we can find you a plan that saves you a lot of money – even hundreds of dollars – even if you don’t qualify for a subsidy. There is no obligation, or hassle, just free quotes on all available plans in your area. To get free instant quotes, simply enter your zip code in the bar above, or to speak to a local agent, call 888-350-1890.