This July is National Cleft and Craniofacial Awareness and Prevention Month. Treatment specialists, support organizations, advocacy groups, parents and affected individuals are joining together to promote awareness and understanding of cleft and craniofacial conditions.
Although Sovereign Health does not treat cleft and craniofacial conditions, we recognize the strong impact these disorders may have on some of our patients.
What are cleft and craniofacial conditions?
Craniofacial anomalies is a broad name for a collection of deformities in the growth of the head and facial bones. Some forms of craniofacial anomalies are severe and may require surgery, whereas other forms are mild and are purely cosmetic. Craniofacial anomalies are congenital, meaning that they present at birth.
The most common forms of craniofacial anomalies are cleft lip and cleft palate. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that each year in the United States, roughly 2,650 babies are born with a cleft palate, and 4,400 babies are born with a cleft lip with or without a cleft palate, making these conditions the most common types of birth defects in the country.
A cleft lip occurs when the tissue that forms the lip does not completely join before birth, resulting in an opening in the upper lip. This opening can be either a small slit, or a large opening that travels through the lip and into the nose.
A cleft palate, on the other hand, occurs when the tissue that makes up the roof of the mouth (or the palate) does not properly join together. Sometimes, children with a cleft lip also have a cleft palate.
Other forms of craniofacial anomalies include craniosynostosis, hemifacial microsomia, vascular malformation, hemangioma and deformational (or positional) plagiocephaly.
What causes craniofacial anomalies?
Researchers suspect that craniofacial anomalies are caused by a combination of genetics, environmental factors and other unknown variables.
The CDC funds the Centers for Birth Defects Research and Prevention, an organization that collaborates on large-scale studies such as the National Birth Defects Prevention Study and the Birth Defects Study to Evaluate Pregnancy Exposures. The aim of these studies is to determine precisely what causes birth defects including craniofacial conditions.
Current research on craniofacial anomalies has suggested that there are a few risk factors.
Smoking: Women who smoke during pregnancy are more likely to have children with a cleft lip and/or cleft palate.
Diabetes: Women who were diagnosed with diabetes prior to pregnancy were also more likely to have children with a cleft lip and/or cleft palate.
Certain medications: Women who used certain medicines during the first trimester of pregnancy – specifically topiramate or valproic acid – have been found to have an increased risk of having a baby with cleft lip with or without cleft palate. It should be kept in mind these medications are sometimes prescribed for psychiatric conditions.
Unfortunately, fetal development is complex, and researchers still have a long way to go before they can tease out all of the factors that contribute to these birth defects.
How do you promote cleft/craniofacial awareness?
The official color of the National Cleft/Craniofacial Awareness and Prevention month is purple. If you can, try to add a little purple to your wardrobe during the month of July. You might also want to consider approaching your local cleft palate/craniofacial team to ask if there’s anything you can do to encourage awareness or prevention. If you personally live with a cleft/craniofacial condition – or if you had one of these conditions in childhood – do what you can to promote education and understanding.
Sovereign Health uses evidence-based treatments to help our adult patients achieve sobriety and mental well-being. Here at Sovereign Health, our clinicians treat the individual — not the disorder. As part of our comprehensive admission process, patients receive a thorough assessment of both their personality and medical history so that we can understand the whole picture. For more information, contact our 24/7 helpline.
About the author
Courtney Lopresti, M.S., is a senior staff writer for Sovereign Health where she uses her scientific background to write online blogs and articles for a general audience. At the University of Pittsburgh, where she earned her Master’s in neuroscience, she used functional neuroimaging to study how the human cerebellum contributes to language processing. In her spare time, she writes fiction, reads Oliver Sacks and spends time with her two cats and bird. Courtney is currently located in Minneapolis. For more information and other inquiries about this article, contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.