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Facts about Cleft Lip and Palate

Operation Smile Medical Programs

Financial Transparency

Get Involved!

Celebrities Smile Ambassadors 

Facts about Cleft Lip and Palate

  • Every 3 minutes, a child somewhere in the world is born with a cleft lip or cleft palate.

  • A baby born with a cleft has twice the odds of dying before celebrating their first birthday.

  • Untreated cleft lips and/or cleft palates are far more common in rural Vietnam than urban areas.

  • There are not enough trained surgeons to handle the growing need and backlog of cleft cases.

Q. What is a cleft lip and cleft palate?

A. A cleft is an opening in the lip, the roof of the mouth or the soft tissue in the back of the mouth. A cleft lip may be accompanied by an opening in the bones of the upper jaw and/or the upper gum. A cleft palate occurs when the two sides of a palate do not join together, resulting in an opening in the roof of the mouth. A cleft lip and palate can occur on one side or both sides. A child can suffer from a cleft lip, a cleft palate or both.

Q. What causes cleft lip and cleft palate?

A. The exact cause is unknown. Cleft lips and cleft palates are congenital defects that occur early in embryonic development. Scientists believe a combination of genetic and environmental factors, such as maternal illness, drugs or malnutrition, may lead to a cleft lip or cleft palate. If one child in a family is born with a cleft, the risk increases by 2 to 4 percent that future children in the family will suffer from the same defect.

Q. Can cleft lip and cleft palate be prevented?

A, Scientists are researching methods to prevent cleft lip and cleft palate. One finding, according to research studies, is that mothers who take multivitamins containing folic acid before conception and during the first two months of pregnancy may reduce their risk of giving birth to a baby with a cleft condition.

Q. Does a cleft lip or cleft palate cause problems for a child?

A. Ear disease and dental problems occur frequently, as do problems with proper speech development. Children who suffer from a cleft lip and/or cleft palate may have difficulty eating. To address these issues, a child and family may work with a team of specialists — a pediatrician, a plastic surgeon, dental specialists, an otolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat specialist), a speech-language pathologist and audiologist, a geneticist and a psychologist/social worker.

Q. Can cleft lip and cleft palate be repaired?

A. Yes. Cleft lip and cleft palate surgery provides excellent results. A pediatrician and a plastic surgeon work with a child's parents to choose the best timing for surgery. Most surgeons agree that a cleft lip should be repaired by the time a baby is 3 months old. To repair the partition of mouth and nose as early as possible, a cleft palate generally is repaired between the ages of 12 and 18 months. Any surgical procedure is dependent upon a child's general health and the nature of the cleft lip or cleft palate.

Q. How frequently do cleft conditions occur?

A. One in 700 children globally is born with a cleft lip and/or cleft palate.

Operation Smile Medical Programs

Q. What does it cost to provide a surgery for a child with a cleft condition?

A. VND 5,000,000 or $250 helps provide surgery to a child with a celft condition. This is possible thanks to the generous contributions of medical professionals who volunteer their time, as well as corporations that donate critical supplies and equipment necessary for safe surgery. This cost includes expenses incurred for essential medical team members to be at an international surgical mission, the expenses for additional supplies required for the medical mission and cargo costs to help ship these critical supplies.

Financial Transparency

Q. What percentage of your funds goes to actual charity work rather than salaries, offices and administration?

All of our financial information including the Audited Financial Statements are available on our website at or available via request by contacting our Financial Department at 84.4.3936.5426.

During FY 14, 80% of all donations went directly to programs, while 13 % was spent on fundraising, and 7 % for administration expenses.

Get involved!

Q. How can I support Operation Smile beyond just donating money?

A. You can help change a child's life by sharing your time, talent and resources as a medical or local community volunteer. We need your help to share our cause, complete smile service projects and raise funds — so that children across the globe can receive free, life-changing surgery from our Operation Smile medical volunteers. Here are a few ways you can become involved:

Q. I am a medical volunteer with Operation Smile who has already volunteered for medical missions. It was a wonderful experience for me and I hope to do many more in the future. What are you doing to improve the medical volunteer experience including better communication for mission selection and timing?

A. Operation Smile's Medical Volunteers Action Center (MVAC) gives volunteers a centralized place for credentialing, signing up for surgical missions, and for chronicling their mission experiences through the social-networking side of MVAC. We are very excited about this initiative as it is serving to improve the overall volunteer experience. Operation Smile is a constantly evolving organization so the needs of medical volunteers will evolve as well. We work daily to assist users and welcome any suggestions to improve the website. Please contact our credentialing department if you are non-Vietnamese citizen. For Vietnamese medical volunteers, please contact: for the quest of credentialing.

Q. I am still in school. I would love to get involved with Operation Smile. Please tell me how I can help?

A. There are great opportunities for students of all grade levels — from elementary school through college. Operation Smile Student Programs empowers youth, creating a global movement for positive change through our four pillars of philanthropy: Leadership, Education, Service and Awareness. More than 900 Operation Smile Student Clubs and associations around the globe build awareness, raise funds and educate students about our core values of commitment, leadership and volunteerism. When students help children in need, they learn firsthand how they can make an impact on the world and help heal humanity. To learn more, please visit our Student Programs page.

Q. It would be nice to know, for sure, exactly which child I helped. Is there any way I can stay in touch with the child I have assisted?

A. Operation Smile's goal is to provide life-changing surgery for children suffering from cleft lip and cleft palate in remote locations around the world. We have chosen to focus on the delivery of free surgery to children, rather than incurring the administrative costs of tracking and following individuals over an extended period of time. To receive treatment, children and families travel great distances to visit our medical mission sites and year-round centers. Our post-operative program goes to great lengths to check on the progress of children in the year following their surgery. It is during these visits that we are able to capture the photos and stories of how your donations have made a difference. We share these stories in as many ways as possible so that you can feel connected to the boys and girls whose lives have been transformed because you care.

Celebrity Smile Ambassadors

Q. I see that Operation Smile has many celebrity ambassadors. How can I get involved?

A. Our Smile Ambassadors not only bring awareness to our cause but they do it from the heart. The celebrities that support Operation Smile are not paid. In addition, many have participated on surgical missions and made financial contributions. A list of our celebrity Smile Ambassadors is available on our website. For information on becoming a Celebrity Smile Ambassador, please contact us via


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