Roof of the mouth, separating the oral and nasal cavities. The front two-thirds, the hard palate, is a plate of bone covered by mucous membrane. It gives the tongue a surface against which to make speech sounds and shape food during chewing and keeps pressures in the mouth from closing off the nasal passage. The flexible soft palate behind it is made of muscle and connective tissue and ends in the uvula, a fleshy projection. It rises to block the nasal cavity (see nose) and upper pharynx off from the mouth and lower pharynx for swallowing or to create a vacuum for drinking. Cleft palate, a congenital disorder involving a gap in the palate, can be corrected surgically.
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Fairly common congenital disorder in which a fissure forms in the roof of the mouth. It may affect only the soft palate or extend through the hard palate, so that the nasal cavity opens into the mouth. The septum (dividing wall) between the nostrils is often absent. Cleft lip, a fissure in the lip beneath the nostril, or other abnormalities may accompany it. Cleft palate limits the ability of an infant to suck, which may lead to malnutrition, and causes speech problems in childhood. Surgical repair, usually at about 18 months of age, forms an airtight separation between nose and mouth. Speech training is still needed, and patients may have a high risk of nose, ear, and sinus infections.
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