Many processes are at play when you breathe, talk, and eat. Although these actions may seem ordinary, hundreds of muscles and bones are required for these basic functions.
One of these necessary muscles is the soft palate. A flexible combination of muscles and tissues, it’s also sometimes called the muscular palate or velum.
The soft palate is found in the back of the roof of the mouth behind the hard palate.
It’s made up of muscles and tissues, but no bones. It ends in the uvula, a fleshy piece of tissue that hangs over the back of the tongue.
The job of the soft palate is to block off the nasal cavity and the nasal portion of the pharynx (the area just behind the nose) when you’re eating or drinking. The uvula helps to push food in the proper direction for swallowing.
The hard and soft palates combine to form the roof of the mouth, but they’re very different.
The hard palate makes up the front two-thirds of the roof of the mouth. It’s made up of the palatine bones, a pair of bones that form the hard palate and part of the nasal cavity.
Its job is to provide structure to the mouth while also separating it from the nose. It give the tongue space to move around for chewing, forming words, and other actions.
The soft palate makes up only one-third of the roof of the mouth and doesn’t include any bones. Compared to the hard palate, it’s very flexible and moldable.
It’s possible to injure the soft palate. Frequently, these injuries come from having an object in the mouth.
Some of the more common soft palate injuries are:
- Burns. Hot items or liquids placed in the mouth can burn sensitive tissues. A severe burn may result in blisters.
- Cuts. When the soft palate is cut, it may swell and form lumps.
- Irritations. If tissues are consistently rubbed by dentures and other devices, lumps and scar tissue may develop.
- Impalement. Sticks, pens, pencils, toys, and straws are common objects that can impale the soft palate. Impalement frequently results in bleeding and may require treatment to prevent infection.
In addition to injuries, the soft palate can experience other conditions such as diseases and problems with its formation. Some conditions that can affect the soft palate include:
Soft palate cancer and oral cancers
Tobacco and alcohol use increase the chance of soft palate and oral cancers. Oral cancers are typically identified by an ulcer in the mouth that becomes painful over time.
Generally, treatments involve surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.
With a cleft palate, there’s an incomplete separation between the nose and the mouth. Left untreated, food may get into the nose or impact speech.
This condition is generally treated through surgery.
A swollen uvula, or uvulitis, is generally temporary, but it may make it difficult to swallow or breathe. It can be caused by things like infection, allergies, or trauma.
Canker sores are small red, yellow, or white sores that can be painful and cause difficulty swallowing.
They usually go away on their own in 5 to 10 days. If they’re especially painful, you may wish to try an over-the-counter numbing medication.
Cold sores will heal on their own in a few weeks, but they’re especially contagious during that time. Prescription medications like Valtrex can speed up this healing time.
These are mucus cysts that form on the roof of the mouth. The typical cause is a small injury that irritates the salivary glands.
Mucoceles can last for several days or weeks and don’t usually require treatment. Chances are they’ll rupture on their own (usually while you’re eating) and heal on their own.
These noncancerous masses are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). They typically look like cauliflower and are white or pink. They don’t usually require treatment but can be surgically removed if they’re causing any problems.
While many of the bumps on your soft palate will heal on their own, you should see your doctor if you have any concerns or are unable to chew and swallow.
Here are the most common treatment options for problems with the soft palate.
Soft palate exercises
By raising and lowering the soft palate, soft palate exercises can increase the muscle tone. This can make it stiffer and less likely to collapse, which may help reduce snoring and improve breathing.
In many cases, the soft palate will heal effectively on its own. However, your doctor may also prescribe antibiotics to help avoid infection after an injury.
Since stitches may cause further damage and delay healing, they’re not used to treat most soft palate injuries. However, there are some cases where a doctor may feel that they’re appropriate.
In determining whether reconstructive surgery is appropriate, doctors will look at the size and thickness of the defect, how this defect is affecting necessary functions, and whether there’s any medical history of radiotherapy.
If you’ve injured, your soft palate the outlook is typically very positive. For most simple impalement injuries, the soft palate should be fully healed before 3 weeks has passed with minimal scarring.
After surgical procedures to the soft palate, you may experience difficulty swallowing for 1 to 2 weeks. After that time, you’ll likely be cleared to return to all your regular activities, but full healing may take 3 to 6 weeks.
One thing to keep in mind with soft palate injuries is that there’s a chance for injury or trauma to the carotid artery. While it’s rare, you should keep an eye out for signs of decreased consciousness, neck swelling, and changes in vision.
The soft palate is located in the roof of the mouth and is essential for talking, eating, and breathing. Without it, food might not find its way into our stomachs.
Injuries and illnesses can impact this part of the body and should be taken seriously. You can help prevent injuries to your soft palate by being careful to avoid placing sharp objects in your mouth.
If you’re unable to swallow or have any other health concerns, make sure to reach out to your doctor right away. Many soft palate issues can be quickly treated.