When it comes to national days of observation, you probably aren’t familiar with the yearly anniversary of National Cleft & Craniofacial Awareness & Prevention Month (NCCAPM). Heck, it’s a lot of work just to say it! Understanding its importance, however, is something we believe you’ll find relatable as a parent. After all, thousands of children each year are affected by conditions and injuries that can alter their appearance – some are congenital, others are due to injury, fire, or even animal attack. Knowing how to prevent such injuries, and what opportunities are available to children with congenital abnormalities is something every parent will appreciate knowing.
What does craniofacial mean?
In medical terms, the word craniofacial is used when referencing conditions that affect a person’s head or face. Conditions such as cleft lip and cleft palate fall into this category, as do congenital abnormalities that effect the development of the skull (craniosynostosis, for example), and the ears (microtia and anotia).
How common is this?
Craniofacial medical concerns are surprisingly common. For example, in North America, approximately 1 in every 700 babies is born with a cleft lip or cleft palate – placing it as the most common of all birth defects according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Microtia and anotia are more difficult to track because of the wide range in case severity, but some estimates place the numbers between less than 1 in 10,000 live births to about 5 in 10,000 live births. Non-congenital facial injury is even more difficult to place a number on given the breadth of potential injuries one can suffer – particularly when it comes to very active children.
Can craniofacial conditions affect a child for a lifetime?
Yes. Although most children in developed countries are fortunate to undergo early care to correct these concerns, children without such access (even in developed countries), experience lifelong challenges. Cleft abnormalities can be particularly traumatizing for these children as they engender difficulties with speech, eating and socializing. In some countries, children with craniofacial concerns are completely shunned from their communities.
How can I help?
Several organizations exist to help children without the means to proper care. For a list, see the NCCAPM website. Also, if you’re interested in donating to help children in need of assistance, or if you’d like to donate to research aimed at helping these children, you can donate now at http://www.nccapm.org/
What about risks and preventable causes?
There are a number of noteworthy risks the CDC identified in its National Birth Defects Prevention Study – the largest study on birth defects ever undertaken in the United States. Among those important findings** are the following:
- Diabetes: Women who have diabetes before they get pregnant have been shown to be more at risk of having a baby with anotia or microtia or a cleft lip with or without cleft palate.
- Smoking: Women who smoke anytime during the month before they get pregnant through the end of the third month of pregnancy have been shown to be more likely to have a baby with a cleft lip with or without cleft palate.
- Maternal Thyroid Disease: Women with thyroid disease or who are treated for thyroid disease while they are pregnant have been shown to be at higher risk of having an infant with craniosynostosis.
- Certain Medications: Women who report using clomiphene citrate (a fertility medication) just before or early in pregnancy have been shown to be more likely to have a baby with craniosynostosis.
**(Each of the above bulleted findings are direct quotes from CDC research.)