Do you ever open your mouth wide and look in a mirror? Staring back at you are the teeth, tongue, gums and maybe your tonsils. Perched above them all is the roof of the mouth, also known as the hard palate.
According to Cedars-Sinai, the palate consists of the bony plate at the top of your mouth, called the hard palate, and the fleshy tissue behind it, called the soft palate. The palate provides a barrier between the mouth and the nasal cavity. It also helps you to speak and swallow.
Feeding and Speech Complications
The palate can be affected by a number of diseases and genetic conditions. Cleft palate is one disorder that can cause both eating and speech difficulties in babies and young children, notes the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA).
A cleft palate is an opening in the roof of the mouth in either the hard or soft palate. It can be on one or both sides of the mouth, and may extend up to affect the lips and nose. A cleft palate can also be hidden by the mucous membrane in children. This type of cleft is known as a submucous cleft palate.
Though cleft palate is the most common birth defect in the United States, its cause is unknown. Clefts happen in the early stage of pregnancy. Risk factors may include genetics, smoking during pregnancy and poor access to prenatal healthcare, notes ASHA.
Babies with cleft palate might struggle to breastfeed or suck from a bottle. Older children may have speech difficulties or delays in learning how to talk.
Oral Cancer and the Hard Palate
While cleft palate is often corrected in childhood, adults can still experience problems related to the hard palate. Like many other body parts, the palate is susceptible to cancer, notes Cedars-Sinai. Potential tumors can spread to the nasal cavity from the mandibular foramen, a natural opening for nerves and blood vessels located near the third molar.
Cedars-Sinai reports that a major palate cancer risk factor is reverse smoking, where the lit end of a cigarette is placed in the mouth. Palate cancer symptoms may include difficulty swallowing, speech changes, lumps in the neck, mouth ulcers or loose teeth.
Surgery is often the first line of treatment for oral cancer that affects the hard palate. Depending on the location of the tumor, the bone closest to the cancerous tumor might also need to be removed. If surgery requires removing a large area of the palate, Acta Stomatologica Croatica describes how a dental professional can make a denture-like prosthesis that fills in missing teeth and the roof of the mouth.
Oral Effects of Sexually Transmitted Diseases
Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) can also jeopardize your oral health and affect your palate. For example, syphilis can cause lesions or warts to appear on the hard or soft palate, the lip or the edge of the tongue, according to a study published in The Brazilian Journal of Infectious Diseases. Warts caused by HPV may also form on the hard or soft palate or other areas of the mouth, explains the Journal of the Massachusetts Dental Society.
If you have unexplained warts, lesions or sores anywhere in your mouth or throat, seek your primary care physician for an STD screening and treatment.
If your hard palate is healthy, chances are you won't notice it at all. See your dentist for regular checkups so that they can perform frequent oral cancer screenings and catch any problems early on.