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Cleft Lip


A cleft lip is a condition where there is an opening (cleft) in the lip. It is one of the most common craniofacial disorders.

Incomplete unilateral cleft

Incomplete unilateral cleft

When one side of the lip has a gap, we call it a unilateral cleft lip.
If the unilateral cleft does not go all the way to the nose, it's called it an incomplete uniltaral cleft lip.

Complete unitlateral cleft

Complete unilateral cleft

If the cleft is one side of the lip and goes all the way to the base of the nose, it's called it a complete unilateral cleft lip.

Bilateral cleft

Bilateral cleft

When both sides of the lip have a gap that goes all the way to the nose, we call it a complete bilateral cleft lip.


Each year, 1 in 700 newborns is born with a cleft lip. A cleft lip occurs when the parts that form the mouth don't join together properly: this happens very early in the pregnancy, within the first 4-12 weeks. Cleft lips can be caused by both genetic and environmental factors.

Impact on a child

We use our lips to do many things, from eating and drinking to speaking. Patients with cleft lips may have issues related to their:

  • Appearance
  • Speech
  • Feeding
  • Growth/development
  • Dental health


Yes, cleft lips can be successfully treated with surgery. Our team's plastic surgeons and orthodontists work with our patients' parents to choose the best timing for surgery. In most cases, a baby's cleft lip will be repaired within the first 3 months after birth. The actually timing of the surgery depends on the patient's general health and the nature of the cleft lip. 

Typical treatment and follow-up plans are outlined below:

At Birth: Newborn Nursing Consultation & Follow-up

The treatment process starts with a nursing consultation for new parents to learn about and get support for diagnosis, feeding and treatment plans.

First 2 Weeks: Orthodontic Evaluation

Our orthodontists assess the cleft, and if needed, fit the baby with an orthodontic appliance that may help to narrow the gap between the lips and gums, improve the symmetry of the nose and minimize the amount of scaring from the surgery. For babies with "bilateral cleft" (a gap on both sides of the lip) the appliance may also bring back the small central portion of the lip and gum in a controlled fashion. Because the lip and gum are in a better position, it simplifies the surgical repair.

4-6 Weeks: Plastic Surgery Consultation

Our surgeons assess the cleft and begin planning for surgery.

4 Weeks Before Surgery: Pre-admission Clinic Consultation

Our anesthetist and nurse ensure that our patient is ready to have anesthetic and surgery.

3-4 Months: Cleft Lip Surgery

Our surgeons repair the cleft in the lip.

6 Weeks After Surgery: Plastic Surgery Follow-up Appointment

Our patient is assessed by either our team, or by specialists in our patient's community.

3 Years: Cleft Lip Team Assessment

Our patient is assessed by the entire team over the course of a 1-2 day out-patient visit.

Before School: Cleft Lip & Nose Revision Surgery

If appropriate our patient undergoes lip and nose revision surgery.

5 Years: Cleft Lip Team Assessment

If appropriate, our patient is assessed by the plastic surgery and orthodontics over the course of a 1-2 day out-patient visit.


SOURCE: Cleft Lip ( )
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