The hard palate is comprised of two facial bones: the palatine process of the maxilla and the paired palatine bones. The hard palate contains several landmarks, including the incisive foramen and the greater and lesser palatine foramina. They serve as a passageway for the neurovascular structures that supply the structures of the oral cavity.
This article identifies the borders of the hard palate and discusses its anatomy and function.
Anerior and lateral - maxillary teeth
Posterior - soft palate
Palatine process of maxilla
Paired palatine bones
Incisive foramen - passage for nasopalatine nerve, sphenopalatine arteries and veins)
Greater palatine foramina - passage for greater palatine nerve)
Lesser palatine foramina - passage for lesser palatine nerve)
The anterior portion of the palate is bordered anteriorly and laterally by the maxillary teeth. The superior border is formed by the respiratory epithelium of the nasal cavity; the inferior border is formed by the masticatory epithelium of the oral cavity. The posterior portion of the hard palate is connected to the soft palate. The soft palate is a purely muscular structure bound by a thick, tendinous aponeurosis of the tensor veli palatini muscles on both sides. This is known as the aponeurotic plate.
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To the anterior part of the hard palate (palatine process of the maxilla) covers the area between the two sides of the maxillary dental arch until it meets the two horizontal palatine processes posteriorly. These processes are fused down the midline, as are the the two embryonic palatine shelves of the maxilla.
The incisive foramen is located in the anterior midline of the hard palate. This structure is located just below the incisive papilla, a fleshy convexity on the palatal mucosa. The incisive foramen transmits the terminal branches of the nasopalatine nerve and the sphenopalatine arteries and veins. It is located approximately one centimeter behind the medial maxillary incisors.
The greater and lesser palatine foramina are located next to the posterolateral border of the hard palate, i.e. approximately one centimeter medial from the second maxillary molar. The greater foramina is just anterior to the lesser one. These foramina transmit the greater and lesser palatine nerves and vessels, respectively.
The sides of the palate fuse together during embryonic development. A remnant of this process, the thick palatine raphe, begins just posterior to the incisive papilla and continues posteriorly along the midline. Beside it, the transverse rugae, lateral transverse ridges of mucosa, radiate outwards. These plicae are more apparent anteriorly. Deep in the palatal mucosa are hundreds of mucous-secreting salivary glands.
The hard palate plays functional roles in both feeding and speech. Before modern surgical treatments were developed, infants with defective palates were unable to suckle and often died. During suckling, the hard palate is used to create a vacuum that forces liquid into the mouth so that it can be ingested. Along with the tongue, the hard palate is also essential for creating certain phonetic sounds. A person with a cleft palate is either unable to pronounce these sounds or produces them with a distinct nasal vibration that makes their diction very unclear.
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A common birth defect that affects the hard palate is a cleft palate. This anomaly occurs during the development of the palate, when the palatine shelves of the maxilla fail to fuse properly. This leaves a gap in the hard palate and, in severe cases, an opening connecting the oral and nasal cavities.
The treatment for this type of deformity is quite extensive and invasive. Multiple surgeries are usually required, along with speech therapy, orthodontic treatment, and long-term use of a prosthesis.
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