Cleft Palate vs. Cleft Lip: What’s the Difference?

a doctor explains to a patient the difference between cleft lip and cleft palate

The word cleft means “split” or “separation.” If some parts of a developing fetus’s face and mouth don’t join properly during early pregnancy, the result is a cleft.

There are two different kinds of clefts: cleft palate and cleft lip. Outlined below are the similarities and differences between these two birth defects, which can occur separately or together.


Cleft lip and cleft palate are different in appearance and require two different kinds of surgery for repair. Cleft lip is more common than cleft palate, and it appears as a gap in the upper lip between the mouth and nose. Cleft palate is less visually noticeable, appearing as an opening in the roof of the mouth.


Both cleft lip and cleft palate require surgery to be repaired. While cleft lip is able to be surgically corrected within the first few months after birth, cleft palate repair surgery sometimes has to wait until the child is at least a year old, depending on the severity of the cleft. Both conditions have the potential to require additional corrective surgeries as the child grows older. Cleft lip and cleft palate can also affect the speech progression of the child and require speech therapy.

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