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Soft Palate - want to learn more about it?

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Soft Palate

The soft palate is the posterior muscular extension of the hard palate which together, with the soft palate,  make up the palate of the oral cavity and the floor of the nasal cavity. This article will discuss the soft palate in detail including its borders, its function, its general anatomy, its musculature and its possible pathology.

Borders

The soft palate is bordered: 

  • superiorly by the respiratory mucosa of the nasal cavity.
  • inferiorly by the mucosa of the oral cavity.
  • Posteriorly it has no borders and hangs at an inferior angle towards the larynx, where it dangles the uvula in its midline.
  • Posterolaterally, however, it forms part of the superior portion of the palatoglossal and palatopharyngeal folds.
  • Anteriorly it is connected to the bony hard palate via an aponeurotic plate at the level of the vibrating line. This plate is a tendinous aponeurosis which extends from the tensor veli palatini muscles on either side.

Soft palate

Function

The soft palate is multi-functional and aids speech and the pronunciation of velar consonants along with the dorsum of the tongue. When swallowing, it rises to close the nasal passages and prevent any food or liquid from entering into the nasal cavity. It does the same thing for the larynx when sneezing. The uvula helps produce the gag reflex when touched.

Anatomy

The soft palate makes up approximately one-third of the posterior portion of the palate its oral mucosal lining is covered with mucous secreting salivary glands. It has no bony frame and is made up entirely of various muscle fibers. The musculature is comprised of five main structures including the musculus uvulae, the tensor veli palatini, the levator veli palatini, the palatopharyngeus muscle and the palatoglossus muscle.

Recommended video: Soft palate
Anatomy, function and definition of the soft palate.

Musculature

Musculus uvulae

The musculus uvulae originate in the posterior nasal spine and the palatal aponeurosis. Its fibers insert into the muscle of the opposite side and it elevates and pulls the uvula laterally. It is innervated by the pharyngeal plexus which takes its motor fibers from the vagus nerve (CN X) and the cranial portion of the accessory nerve (CN XI). This plexus innervates all the soft palate muscles, save the tensor veli palatini muscle. It may be bifid in appearance, however, that does not affect the patient in any way other than aesthetically.

Uvula - posterior view

Tensor veli palatini muscle

The tensor veli palatini muscle originates in the cartilaginous part of the auditory tube as well as the scaphoid fossa of the sphenoid bone. It inserts into the palatine aponeurosis and broadens the soft palate by pulling it laterally. It is innervated by a muscular branch of the mandibular nerve (CN V/III).

Levator veli palatini muscle

The levator veli palatini muscle arises from the cartilaginous portion of the auditory tube and the petrous part of the temporal bone. It inserts into the palatine aponeurosis as well as the fibers of the muscle on the opposite side. It elevates both the soft palate and pulls it posteriorly, which helps close the nasopharynx during swallowing.

Tesnsor veli palatinin - cross section

Palatopharyngeus muscle

The palatopharyngeus muscle attaches proximally to the posterior border of the hard palate and also to the palatine aponeurosis. It distally inserts itself on the posterior aspect of the lamina of the thyroid cartilage of the larynx. It helps close the nasopharynx as well as raising the larynx and the pharynx.

Palatopharyngeus muscle - posterior view

Palatoglossus muscle

The palatoglossus muscle arises from the palatine aponeurosis and terminates on the lateral aspect of the tongue where its fibers intermingle with the intrinsic musculature of the tongue. It acts in narrowing the oropharyngeal isthmus during digestion and also elevates the tongue.

Palatoglossus muscle - Lateral view

Clinical Notes

Possible pathological conditions that may affect the soft palate include mucosal lesions such as herpangina, pemphigus vulgaris, and migratory stomatitis. Small petechiae upon the uvula and region of the soft palate may be symptoms of streptococcal pharyngitis, but can also be a harmless symptom post fellatio. Developmental anomalies that can affect the soft palate, in particular, the uvula include a congenital cleft palate with a cleft uvula.

Soft Palate - want to learn more about it?

Our engaging videos, interactive quizzes, in-depth articles and HD atlas are here to get you top results faster.

Sign up for your free Kenhub account today and join over 852,397 successful anatomy students.

“I would honestly say that Kenhub cut my study time in half.” – Read more. Kim Bengochea Kim Bengochea, Regis University, Denver

Show references

References:

  • Frank H. Netter, MD, Atlas of Human Anatomy, Fifth Edition, Saunders - Elsevier, Chapter 6 Oral Region, Palate, Page 35.
  • Neil S. Norton, Ph.D. and Frank H. Netter, MD, Netter’s Head and Neck Anatomy for Dentistry, 2nd Edition, Elsevier Saunders, Chapter 13 Oral Cavity, Boundaries of the Oral Cavity, Page 332 to 336 and 374.

Author:

  • Dr. Alexandra Sieroslawska

Illustrators:

  • Soft palate - Yousun Koh 
  • Tesnsor veli palatinin - cross section - National Library of Medicine
  • Palatopharyngeus muscle - posterior view - Yousun Koh 
  • Palatoglossus muscle - Lateral view - Begoña Rodriguez
© Unless stated otherwise, all content, including illustrations are exclusive property of Kenhub GmbH, and are protected by German and international copyright laws. All rights reserved.

Related Atlas Images

Nerves of the pharynx

Overview of the oral cavity

Nasopharynx level (section 1/16)

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