Medicine: Learning to Close the Cleft

New ways of detecting and treating a widespread birth defect

Cleft palate and cleft lip, which often occur together, are among the most common birth defects in the world. In the U.S. they afflict about one out of 750 babies. The lip is easily sutured by a plastic surgeon within ten weeks or so of birth, but the gap in the roof of the mouth, usually open clear through to the nose, cannot be closed until the facial bones have grown. This may take a year or more. That period can be trying for both parents and child. First there is the...

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