The functions of the palate are to separate the mouth from the nasal cavity and to form the floor of the nasal cavity and the roof of the mouth, providing a surface against which the tongue can push during chewing and swallowing.
The hard palate is formed by processes of the maxillae and palatine bones and is covered by a mucous membrane. Further back, the soft palate is a mobile connective tissue structure which can close off the nasopharynx during swallowing and speech. At the back of the mouth, the soft palate tapers to form a fleshy hanging flap of tissue called the uvula.
Cleft palate is a common developmental deformity of the palate in which the two halves do not meet in the midline; it is often associated with harelip. It can be familial or follow disease in early pregnancy, but may appear spontaneously. It causes a characteristic nasal quality in the cry and voice. Plastic surgery can close the defect and allow more normal development of the voice and teeth.