Background: Clefts of the lip and palate are the most common significant congenital birth anomaly of orofacial region. The condition may vary from a minor easily correctable cleft to a significant functional and cosmetic incapacitation. This is the first epidemiological study of orofacial clefts in the Negev region in Israel.
Objectives: To establish the frequency of cleft lip and palate in the population of the Negev, characterize the demographic features of affected individuals and find possible risk factors, compare the risk in two major population groups: Bedouin and Jewish in a well-defined geographic area, and determine whether there is a change over time in the birth of babies with facial clefts.
Methods: We conducted a retrospective survey of the Soroka Medical Center archives. The sample population comprised all 131,218 babies born at Soroka during the 11 year period 1 January 1996 to 31 December 2006. Statistical tests used Pearson's chi-square test, Student’s t-test and Spearman's correlation coefficient test according to the type of parameter tested.
Results: During the study period 140 babies were born with orofacial cleft. The overall incidence of cleft lip and palate was 1.067/1000. The incidence of facial clefts was 1.54/1000 among Bedouins and 0.48/1000 among Jews (P < 0.001). Cleft palate was significantly more frequent in female than male babies (P = 0.002). Over the study years we found a significant decrease in the incidence of facial clefts in the Bedouin population, with Spearman's correlation coefficient rank -0.9 (P < 0.01).
Conclusions: A significant decrease occurred in the incidence of facial clefts among Bedouin. This change may be attributed to prenatal care in the Bedouin Negev population as part of social and health-related behavior changes. The reduction in rates of congenital malformations, however, does not mean a reduction in the number of cases in a growing population. Also, with a modern western lifestyle, the expectancy and demand for reconstructive facial surgery and comprehensive care for these children are on the rise.