MONDAY, Dec. 31 (HealthDay News) -- When Americans hear "cleft lip" or "cleft palate," they often think of children in developing countries, but U.S. babies are by no means immune to the birth defect.
Each year about 7,000 American children are born with an oral cleft defect, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This means that their lip hasn't formed completely and isn't closed properly in the case of cleft lip or, in the case of cleft palate, that there's a hole in the roof of their mouth.
The good news, though, is that the condition is treatable.
"The outcomes for children are excellent," said Dr. Joseph Shin, chief of the division of plastic and reconstructive surgery at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City. "Children do fine with it. It's not the end of the world." Shin has served on humanitarian surgical missions for Operation Smile and other organizations to repair cleft lips and cleft palates in countries in South America, Mexico, Morocco and the Middle East.
Cleft lip and cleft palate aren't just cosmetic concerns, however. "There's a lot of function in the palate and the lip," explained Dr. Laura Swibel Rosenthal, an assistant professor in the departments of otolaryngology and pediatrics at Loyola University's Stritch School of Medicine in Chicago. "Babies have to eat and not have food go up through their nose."
Children born with these conditions can also have problems with their ears and sinuses because fluids can travel where they shouldn't. If the defects are not corrected when children are young, they can also interfere with a child's ability to speak properly. And, when the cleft is in the front of the mouth, it interferes with the development of the teeth, said Swibel Rosenthal, who added that sometimes, surgery is needed to move the jaw forward.
It's not clear exactly what causes oral clefts, according
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