Beyond Cleft Palate: Craniofacial Abnormalities You May Not Know About

When you ask people to identify some common craniofacial abnormalities, the most common answer is generally a cleft lip or cleft palate, which causes a separate in the top lip and/or the roof of the mouth. While this is a common abnormality—cleft lip (with or without a cleft palate) occurs in about 1 out of every 700 births in the U.S. each year—it’s certainly not the only craniofacial abnormality. Here is a brief overview of some other common ones you might see, and what you should know about each.

“Craniofacial abnormalities” is actually a very broad term used to describe a diverse array of deformities in the growth and development of bones in the head and face. Abnormality just means “different from normal”, and they can range from mild to severe, some not requiring any intervention, while others require more extensive treatment and surgery. They might be caused by a combination of genetics and environmental factors


This condition occurs when a baby’s “soft spots” (areas that are connected by tissue so your baby’s head can change shape and pass through the birth canal) close too soon. It can interfere with brain and skull growth, and could cause excessive pressure inside the head, leading to changes in the skull or facial bones that could impact a person’s symmetrical appearance.

Hemifacial Microsomia

This condition goes by several names, including:

• Goldenhar syndrome
• Brachial arch syndrome
• Facio-auriculo-vertebral syndrome
• Oculo-auriculo-vertebral spectrum
• Lateral facial dysplasia

It happens when tissues on one side of the face are underdeveloped, and usually impacts the jaw, mouth, and ear areas. In some cases it can impact both sides of the face, although generally it only affects a single side.

Deformational (Positional) Plagiocephaly

An asymmetrical or misshapen head can be caused by repeated pressure in a single area of the head, and may be caused by things like back sleeping or remaining in a car seat without moving their heads for long periods of time, a restrictive environment in utero (multiple births, breech position, etc.), premature birth, or muscular torticollis. Unlike craniosynostosis, which must be corrected surgically, this condition is often treated with correct positioning or helmeting when necessary.

Other Syndromes

Some other common craniofacial syndromes you might encounter include:

• Apert’s Syndrome
• Crouzon’s syndrome
• Pfeiffer’s syndrome

Less common, but still worth knowing about are conditions such as:

• Nager’s syndrome
• Carpenter’s syndrome
• Jackson-Weiss syndrome
• Saethre-Chotzen syndrome

The best thing you can do to identify when your child has a craniofacial abnormality and get the correct treatment is to take him or her for regular checkups with your pediatrician.

To find out more about how you can help with resources for research and training that will improve prevention and correction of these craniofacial abnormalities, contact the Craniofacial Foundation of Utah today.

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