While the exact cause of congenital cleft lip remains unknown, researchers are finding out now that this phenomenon can occur between the 4th and 12th week of pregnancy. This is according to Dr. Laurence T. Loh, a licensed plastic surgeon in the Philippines and a fellow in craniofacial and microvascular surgery at Eastern Virginia Medical School-Norfolk in the United States.
A congenital cleft lip affects the physical functions and social interactions of affected children, and may cause feeding and or speech/language problems if they are not treated.
Dr. Loh added that maternal malnutrition is said to contribute to this condition; in particular, a deficiency in folic acid and pyridoxine (Vitamin B6) in the mother’s diet. The richest sources of vitamin B6 include potatoes, fish, beef liver, fruits, and cereals. Folic acid, on the other hand, can be found in food sources like beans, asparagus, spinach, avocado, and other green, leafy vegetables.
Dr. Loh is one of the people behind Operation Smile, an international non-profit organization that aims to help indigent children with cleft lips and facial deformities in over 60 countries by providing them with safe, effective reconstructive surgery. He is also able to help individuals by way of his private practice through his newly-opened Loh Institute of Plastic Surgery (LIPS) in Quezon City.
His volunteerism work has brought him and his team to far-flung and the most depressed areas in the country. Based on Philippine statistics, it is estimated that one in every 500 babies are born every year with a cleft lip, a cleft palate, or both. Cleft lips and palates are also among the top 12 birth defects in the country.
He also mentioned that the condition is likely to affect the offsprings of women who contract a disease during pregnancy, or had radiation exposure. Attemptted abortions and maternal intake of alcohol or tobacco use may also cause the condition.