Oral clefts are relatively common birth defects and parents worry about their newborns even though surgery and other treatments correct appearance and restore crucial functioning. But does being born with an oral cleft impact health outcomes for these children when they grow to be young adults?

Erik Berg. M.D., of the University of Bergen, Norway, examined that question using detailed health information on approximately 1.5 million people born in Norway between 1967 and 1992 in an article published online by JAMA Pediatrics. The study group included more than 2,000 individuals born with oral cleft who were followed up until 2010, when all the participants were between the ages of 18 and 43.

The final study group for analysis included 2,337 individuals born with isolated clefts and more than 1.4 million individuals not born with oral clefts. Of the 2,337 people born with oral clefts, almost 60 percent were male and their average age in 2010 was about 30.

The authors report:

  • Individuals born with cleft lip with or without cleft palate had similar risks of health problems and death as those born without oral clefts.
  • Individuals born with cleft palate without cleft lip had increased risk of death and increased risk for a variety of conditions, including intellectual disability, autism spectrum disorder and severe learning disabilities.

Knowledge of long-term health risks for children born with oral clefts is limited and the study notes children born with oral clefts could have underlying conditions that affect their future health.

Despite the study's sample size, there were limitations in some analyses because of small subsamples.

"The present results are good news for parents of children with isolated cleft lip. ... The present study confirms previous findings stating that children born with isolated CPO [cleft palate only] have higher rates of mortality and morbidity than do individuals in a reference group. Thorough screening for other underlying conditions in this patient group is highly recommended from a young age to ensure necessary interventions and treatment as early as possible," the study concludes.

Article: Health Status Among Adults Born With an Oral Cleft in Norway, Erik Berg MD, et al., JAMA Pediatrics, doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2016.1925, published online 26 September 2016.

Editorial: Evaluation of Adults Born With an Oral Cleft, Carrie L. Heike MD, MS, Kelly N. Evans MD, JAMA Pediatrics, doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2016.2639, published online 26 September 2016.