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Normal Palate Anatomy

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Updated October 31, 2011

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Normal Palate Anatomy

Anatomy of a Normal Palate: Left-Side Unlabeled, Right-side Labeled

Photo © Millicent Odunze, M.D., M.P.H.

Understanding what a normal palate looks like will help you better understand the anatomy of cleft palate.

  • Mucosa: The mucosa is moist, pink tissue that lines the inside of certain body parts. It lines the nose, mouth, lungs, and the urinary and digestive tracts.

  • Hard Palate: The hard palate is the bony part of the roof of the mouth. It makes up the front part of the palate. It is in front of the soft palate. You don’t see the bone when you open your mouth because it is covered by a layer called “mucosa.” With either your tongue or your finger, you can feel when the palate changes from hard to soft. The hard palate separates the mouth from the nose. Without the hard palate, there is communication between the nasal cavity and the oral cavity. This communication between the two makes speech, eating and drinking difficult. The hard palate keeps food from going up the nose. The hard palate is also important for speaking as it keeps air from going out of the nose instead of the mouth.

  • Soft Palate: The soft palate is the posterior fleshy part of the palate. If you run your tongue from the front of the roof of your mouth to the back you can feel when the hard palate becomes the soft palate. The uvula is the most posterior part of the soft palate. If you open your mouth and take a deep breath in, you’ll see your soft palate lift. The soft palate moves up and down because of the action of the muscles in the palate. When there is a cleft in the palate muscle, it does not function and speech is impaired. Specifically speech becomes difficult to understand because air is going out of the nose instead of the mouth. Additionally because the soft palate pushes food to the back of the throat when a person is swallowing, eating is more difficult in patients with a cleft of the soft palate.

  • Uvula: The uvula is the part of the soft palate that hangs down the middle in the back of the mouth. In some people, it is very well defined. Others may not have a small one or may not have one at all.

  • Incisive Foramen: The incisive foramen is a structure that separates the primary palate from the secondary palate. It is an opening in the bony palate through which the blood vessels and nerves for the palate pass. It is directly behind the two front teeth. In a palate without a cleft, the incisive foramen cannot be seen as it is covered by the mucosa of the palate.

  • Alveolar Ridge: The alveolar ridge is also known as the “dental arch” or “gums.” The alveolar ridge is from where the teeth emerge. There is an upper alveolar ridge and a lower alveolar ridge.

  • Primary Palate: The primary palate is the portion of the palate anterior to the incisive foramen. It includes the front portion of the hard palate and is triangular in shape. It also includes the four central front teeth and the alveolar ridge which contains those four teeth.

  • Secondary Palate: The secondary palate is the back portion of the hard palate (the portion behind the incisive foramen) including the posterior alveolar ridge, and all of the soft palate and uvula.

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