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The hard palate is part of the palate or roof of the mouth, which forms a bridge between the upper teeth, and also partitions the mouth and nose so that these cavities are separated. It's located in the anterior or front section, next to the soft palate. The hard and soft palates each play a distinctive role, and each is important.
Humans can feel the hard palate by sticking their tongues against the roof of the mouth. They may note that this area feels hard and bony, explaining the name. By contrast, the soft palate, found in the back of the mouth, gives easily to the touch, with a flexible, springy texture.
This anatomical structure is formed in utero as the skull fuses. In some people, the palate fails to seal shut, resulting in a condition known as cleft palate, which usually needs to be repaired surgically. The soft palate has no backing of bone, explaining why it is more flexible. The palate helps people to eat and breathe, and in the case of humans, it plays a very important role in speech, as the interaction between the tongue and the hard palate is necessary to produce a variety of sounds, such as the hard “t” in “tree.”
Unless someone has a cleft palate, he or she will generally not experience problems with the palate over the course of a lifetime. Like other areas of the body, however, it can develop cancerous growths and tumors. Palate cancer is more common in people who use tobacco products, but it can strike anyone, and it can cause serious medical problems, obstructing the mouth so that it is difficult for the patient to eat, breathe, and speak.
Lumps in the palate do not necessarily mean cancer. A growth known as a torus can occur in the palate and takes the form of a hard lump that will grow slowly over time. Patients may opt to have a torus removed if it makes them feel uncomfortable or interferes with eating and speech. An ear, nose, and throat surgeon can perform the surgery.
When children are born with a cleft palate, it takes a lot of patience for parents to care for them as babies and as they grow older.
A friend of mine was a pediatric nurse and saw a fair number of cases. It's actually a hole in the palate that didn't grow together. She remembers one case where the child had cleft palate on both sides of the palate.
This baby had a very hard time sucking his bottle because the milk kept going down the nasal cavity. He had ear, teeth and speech problems. My nurse friend said he was always coming in to see the doctor about something.
Surgery was finally scheduled when he was
about 15 months old. The deformity was improved, but he needed lots of help from many specialists - like speech therapists, and ear, eye, and nose doctors.
As they grow older, many of these kids have emotional problems. Other kids tease them. They might be behind in school. Parents need to give them all the support they can.
I never realized how important the hard palate or, as I call it, the roof of the mouth, is for so many different things.
I know that we need it everyday to help us to chew and swallow our food.
We also need it to talk correctly. To make some of the consonant sounds, we need to touch our tongue to a particular spot on the hard palate. Try it - say all the consonant sounds and see which ones you have to put your tongue on your palate to pronounce. How do babies ever learn to talk? It's miraculous.