When was the last time you gave much thought to the roof of your mouth? Probably when you painfully burn yourself with hot tea or coffee or felt a sharp object poke at it as you were chewing.
The roof of your mouth is also known as your palate. You might have heard this term used when talking about wine tasting or the detection of certain ingredients in food or beverages. Why? Because a portion of your palate is where your taste buds are located, in addition to the ones found on your tongue.
Essential for Your Function
Your palate is divided into two separate parts. The front part has ridges and is firm (hard palate). The back part is relatively smooth and supple (soft palate).
Soft palate: This is where the taste buds are found. It’s made up of flexible muscle and connective tissue and closes off your nasal passages when swallowing. The soft palate ends with the uvula, which hangs down from the midline at the back of your mouth.
Hard palate: This portion of the roof of the mouth is characterized by those ridges that feel like large wrinkles, beginning right after your top front teeth and moving further into the mouth. However, some people’s hard palate may also feel smooth. The hard palate is essential to both feeding and language.
The hard palate meets the soft palate, and these two structures work together to separate the nasal cavity from the mouth. Your palate makes sure that your food is ingested properly, all while enabling you to communicate with other people.
Our Role in Assessing Your Palate
Your hard and soft palate are prime locations for the development of oral cancer. Because oral cancer can be completely asymptomatic until it is more severe, it’s essential for us to assess the health of your tissues on a regular basis. If precancerous tissues are noted, a small biopsy will be ordered.
Palatal infections are also fairly common, especially among older patients and infants. If you are a denture wearer but do not remove your prosthesis regularly, infections such as thrust or other oral yeast infections may occur. An antibiotic may be necessary, along with instruction on proper care and maintenance of your removable prosthesis.
Even if you no longer have natural teeth, the health of your oral tissues – including your palate – are extremely important. Schedule your oral health exam every six months!