Children's Hospital Colorado

Cleft Lip and Cleft Palate

What is a cleft lip or cleft palate?

A cleft is an opening. Babies diagnosed with a cleft lip or palate have an opening in the lip or roof of the mouth (palate). In some cases, babies may have both. Cleft conditions develop during the first three months of pregnancy when the tissue of the lip and palate do not fuse together completely.

Cleft conditions occur in many variations and require different treatment options based on how they manifest. The team at Children's Hospital Colorado has extensive experience in treating all forms of cleft lips and cleft palates. We also use our state-of-the-art facility to provide the best outcomes.

Types of cleft lips

  • Unilateral: on one side 
  • Bilateral: on both sides 
  • Complete: extends all the way into the nostril
  • Incomplete: does not extend up into the nostril
  • Isolated: cleft lip without a cleft palate

An artist's drawing of the bottom half of a baby's face. The upper lip extends only part of the way up to the nose on the right side only.An artist's drawing of the bottom half of a baby's face. The upper lip on the left side extends all the way up to the nose while the right side extends only partway up to the nose.

An artist's drawing of the bottom half of a baby's face. The upper lip extends up to the nose on the right side only.An artist's drawing of the bottom half of a baby's face. The upper lip extends up to the nose and there is a line to it that says Premaxilla.

Types of cleft palates (opening at the roof of the mouth)

  • Alveolar: a cleft in the upper gum line (alveolus) that may or may not extend into the cleft palate
  • Submucous: a cleft in the soft palate near the back of the roof of the mouth that is covered by a thin layer of skin or tissue; this type of cleft is often hard to diagnose because it's not easily seen
  • Complete: extends from the front all the way to the back of the palate
  • Incomplete: does not extend all the way through the hard and soft palates
  • Isolated: a cleft palate without a cleft lip

An artist's drawing of a baby's open mouth. In the back of the mouth, the flesh is disconnected and there is a line to the part in the middle that says Premaxilla.An artist's drawing of a baby's open mouth. In the back of the mouth, the flesh is disconnected in the middle.An artist's drawing of a baby's open mouth. In the back of the mouth, the flesh is disconnected and has a wide gap.An artist's drawing of a baby's open mouth. In the back of the mouth, the flesh is thick and connected and there is a line to the part in the middle that says Zona pellucida and a line to the flesh hanging down in the middle that says Bifid uvulva.Drawing of cleft palate that involves the soft palate only

What causes a cleft lip or cleft palate?

In most cases, the exact cause of a cleft is unknown. Most children born with a cleft lip and/or cleft palate don't have other medical conditions. However, some children may have additional medical conditions that are associated with a specific syndrome.

Experts believe a combination of genetic and environmental factors cause cleft conditions. A family history of cleft conditions may play a role in a child being born with a cleft. Certain maternal behaviors and conditions may increase the risk of a cleft, including smoking during pregnancy, diabetes and the use of certain medications.

Who gets a cleft lip or cleft palate?

Clefts occur in all races and in both males and females. Cleft lips and palates are more common in Asian, Latino and Native American ethnicities than in other ethnic groups. Cleft lips and palates occur about twice as often in boys as in girls, while an isolated cleft palate is slightly more common in girls. In the United States, cleft conditions occur once in every 650-700 births and they are one of the most common birth defects.

What challenges or other problems may a child with a cleft lip and/or cleft palate experience?

A cleft can affect appearance, feeding, speech, hearing and teeth. A child with a cleft may also experience social challenges. The cleft lip and palate team at Children's Colorado offers support and education to help patients and families face these challenges from childhood to adulthood. As your child grows, resources for success in school and beyond are available through the Cleft Lip and Palate Clinic.

Get to know our pediatric experts.

Thomas Inge, MD

Thomas Inge, MD

Surgery - Pediatric, Surgery

Chinonye Ihekweazu, MSN

Chinonye Ihekweazu, MSN

Certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner

AnnaMaria Salas, PA-C

AnnaMaria Salas, PA-C

Physician Assistant

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Becky Synenki Hill, NP

Becky Synenki Hill, NP

Certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner

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