Varsity don lists causes of cleft lip, palate defects

Maxillofacial surgery

Maxillofacial surgery

First female oral and maxillofacial surgeon in Nigeria, Prof. Mobolanle Ogunlewe, has identified the interplay between genetic and environmental factors as the cause of cleft lips and palates deformity in some newborn babies.

Ogunlewe, at her inaugural lecture at the University of Lagos (UNILAG) recently, said though the cause of failures of formation between the right and left palates shelves were still not fully understood, but the defect emerges from both internal and external factor, rather than a single cause.

Cleft lip and palates deformities are caused by errors in the growth process when the different parts of the face are formed in the womb. The tissues of the lips or palate of the unborn baby do not come together very early in pregnancy, leading to discontinuity of the affected structures.

The maxillofacial expert explained that normal lip development occurs between four to six weeks of gestation while the palate develops between six-12 weeks. So the upper lip develops from the fusion of these two processes and failure of the fusion results in cleft lip deformities. “Failure to fuse both the right and left palatal shelves results in cleft palate, as well,” she added.

Ogunlewe, who has repaired 530 cleft lip and palates among Nigerian children within the last nine years said, though it is a non life threatening birth defects, but the condition affects the psychosocial wellbeing of patients.

Addressing the theme of her lecture, “Changing the world one smile at a time,” she noted that a smile is a form of nonverbal communication that conveys mood, attitude and general wellbeing. It is therefore a symbol of happiness and warmth, hence any condition that can wipe away the smile on an individual’s face is a threat.

According to her, the main objective of the management of the deformity is to achieve functional and anatomic repair of bony and soft tissue defects such that the child’s ability to speak, hear and eat would be well enhanced.

“The reason we advocate for the child’s early treatment before the they begin interaction with peers is to decrease the social discomfort as a result of the deformity. The lip should be repaired at three months and the palate between one and half years,” she expressed.

Ogunlewe attributed external factors to usage of certain drugs like anti-epileptic, folic acid deficiency in early pregnant women, infections like syphilis and chickenpox as well as habits such as smoking and alcoholism.

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