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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 (seenose) 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.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on palate, visit Britannica.com.