The soft and hard palates make up the roof of the mouth. The soft palate is located behind the hard palate in the back of the mouth.
The soft palate does not consist of any bone. It is a fleshy part of the mouth that ends in the uvula.
The uvula hangs down from the soft palate and is noticeable when you open your mouth. It blocks the nasal cavity when you are eating and drinking.
The soft palate is made of muscle and tissue, making it mobile and flexible. When you swallow or suck, the soft palate entirely separates the mouth from the throat. This helps keep food from making its way into the respiratory tract.
The soft palate is also recognized as the muscular palate or the velum.
The soft palate is essential for the structure of the mouth. It provides several vital functions:
Speech is a complex process that involves the tongue, lips, and palate. These components produce speech by sending airflow through the mouth to make certain sounds that create words.
When someone has a cleft palate or another soft palate disorder, air can leave through the nose and affect speech. The speech may sound weak or nasal.
The soft palate separates the nose and mouth. It serves as a barrier between the digestive and respiratory tracts. This enables a person to breathe and eat simultaneously.
However, people cannot swallow and breathe at the same time.
When people swallow, they shift food or liquid from the mouth into the esophagus to reach the stomach.
When you swallow, more than 30 muscles and nerves work to send food toward the stomach rather than the nose or lungs.2
The soft palate also seals the opening of the airways to stop pressure from escaping through the nose.
The hard and soft palates create the roof of the mouth.
The soft palate consists of muscles and tissues at the back of the roof of the mouth. The soft palate is the area where the oral cavity ends and the oropharynx begins.
The hard palate is found at the roof of the mouth and contains palatine bone.
The hard palate is two-thirds of the palate. It gives structure in the mouth and enables space for the tongue to move around.1
The soft palate contains a few kinds of body tissues, including:
It is common for the soft palate to show signs of swelling and inflammation if the body has a viral, bacterial, or fungal invasion.
Since this area is linked to both the respiratory and gastrointestinal systems, it is essential to evaluate any symptoms to understand the cause of the swelling.
There are various causes of soft palate pain and inflammation, some more serious than others:
The early signs of oral cancer include:
Your health care provider is the ideal medical professional to address soft palate cancer concerns. You can request a screening during a routine teeth cleaning.
The most common type of soft palate cancer is squamous cell carcinoma. It is treated similarly to other cancers with surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation.
One of the most common causes of soft palate pain is an injury or trauma.
Some of the most common causes of injury or trauma include:
Dehydration can make the roof of the mouth swell, leading to dry mouth.
Some common causes of dehydration include:
Most causes of soft palate pain do not require medical care. However, you should meet with a doctor or general dentist in some circumstances.
Some reasons to see a doctor for soft palate pain include:
In most circumstances, soft palate pain should not be a cause for concern. Usually, a person fully recovers within a few days to a week.
There are various tests and procedures available to diagnose soft palate cancer. There are also several treatments available.3
Soft palate cancer tests include examining your soft palate. Your doctor uses a mirror or tiny camera to view your soft palate and other structures in your throat.
Your doctor may also remove a tissue sample for testing. In the lab, pathologists will assess the tissue sample for signs of cancer.
To understand the size of your cancer and to assess for signs that cancer may have spread beyond your soft palate, your doctor may suggest imaging tests like:
Treatment for soft palate cancer depends on various factors, including:
Surgery is one of the treatment options for soft palate cancer. The goal of surgery is to remove as much of the soft palate cancer as possible. If the cancer is small, it may be extracted during a short operation that does not require a hospital stay.
More significant cancers may require more complex operations. When cancer has spread to the neck lymph nodes, lymph node removal may be required.
Radiation therapy is another treatment option. Radiation uses beams of high energy, like x-rays and protons, to kill cancer cells. It can be used on its own or with chemotherapy or surgery to treat soft palate cancers of all stages.
Chemotherapy is another option that uses drugs to eradicate cancer cells. This treatment can be combined with radiation therapy.
Reconstructive surgery may be another option (depending on where the soft palate cancer is located and how far it has spread).
In most cases, soft palate pain can be treated at home. Soft palate pain resulting from common injuries like a burn from a hot drink will usually heal on its own within a few days.
In some circumstances, a person may decide to use medications to help treat a cold sore. In the case of dehydration or electrolyte imbalance, the best treatment is to increase your liquid intake. It is advised to consume non-alcoholic drinks like water or herbal tea.
If your electrolytes are too low, you can drink a sports drink or juice to restore the balance.
In cases of an underlying condition, you should seek medical attention from a doctor.
9. The velum, Department of Linguistics, UCLA
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Helwany M, Rathee M. Anatomy, Head and Neck, Palate. [Updated 2021 Jun 18]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan
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