Cleft Lip and Palate: An Overview

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Guest:  Dr. Christopher Discolo – Otolaryngology – Head & Neck Surgery

Host:  Dr. Linda Austin – Psychiatry

Dr. Linda Austin:  I’m Dr. Linda Austin.  I’m talking, today, with Dr. Christopher Discolo who is Assistant Professor in the department of Otolaryngology, or Ear, Nose and Throat, here at the Medical University of South Carolina.  Dr. Discolo, I know your area of specialty is cleft lip and cleft palate.  Can you describe, exactly, what that is?

Dr. Christopher Discolo:  Well, cleft lip and cleft palate are conditions that children are born with.  A cleft lip implies that the muscle of the lip doesn’t come together and you have, essentially, a gap on the front of the face where the lips should be.  

Dr. Linda Austin:  So, normally, as the baby is forming, or developing, in the mother’s uterus, there normally is a split, but as the baby matures during pregnancy, that should come together and fuse?

Dr. Christopher Discolo:  That’s correct.  The formation of the face is actually a very complicated process and when part of that process is interrupted, you can have the formation of a cleft lip or a cleft palate. 

Dr. Linda Austin:  So, the lip, then, is if that muscle doesn’t fuse.  How about the palate?  What goes on there if that process doesn’t occur quite normally?

Dr. Christopher Discolo:  Well, part of the palate actually develops with the lip.  However, the majority of the palate develops separately from the lip.  And, in a similar fashion, interruptions of its development will lead to the palate not forming completely, resulting in a hole in the roof of the mouth.  

Dr. Linda Austin:  So, it sounds, then, as if sometimes this can be relatively minor and maybe, other times, it can quite significant?

Dr. Christopher Discolo:  That’s correct.  Cleft lip and/or cleft palate can run the full gamut, from very mildly affected children to very severely affected children.  

Dr. Linda Austin:  What causes cleft lip or cleft palate?

Dr. Christopher Discolo:  There can be many things that contribute to the formation of cleft lip and palate.  Some of them include drugs or nutritional factors during the pregnancy.

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