In very basic terms, the word cleft means a split or divide.
When we talk about cleft lips, the severity and type ranges. Someone may have a split on one side of the lip, known officially as a unilateral cleft lip, which can be just a small notch out of the lip to an wide gap under the left or right nostril. Someone known to have a bilateral cleft lip will have two splits in the lip which generally fall directly under both nostrils. A bilateral cleft lip is what myself and my son, Will were both born with.
You can get a complete or incomplete cleft lip. A complete cleft lip means there is no attachment whatsoever from one side to the other. An incomplete cleft lip means there is an attachment from one side to the other - even if this is a teeny tiny thread of flesh!
A cleft palate also ranges in severity too. We're basically talking no roof of a mouth to a tiny gap that can often go unmissed, especially if there is no cleft lip included. Take myself and Will for example, we both had large cleft palates. If you run your tongue from the back of your front teeth as far back as you can, neither of us had that when we were born. When we used to look in Will's mouth when he was first born, all you could see were his gums and his nasal septum!
Someone can be born with just a cleft lip, just a cleft palate or both. One person could have a bilateral cleft lip and no palate issues. Someone could have a unilateral cleft lip and a large cleft palate or someone could just have a tiny cleft palate. Not one size fits all.
So, known as the most common craniofacial abnormality, a cleft lip and/or palate affects 1 in 700 babies born in the UK. The rate actually increases in certain areas of the world as well. Health professionals still don't know why this condition occurs as it cannot be predicted or prevented. However, hopefully at some point there will be answer to it all!