High-arched palate refers to when the hard palate or roof of the mouth is narrow and tall. The structure of the mouth develops rapidly in-utero and continues to form during the first year of life. High-arched palate can be a congenital condition that is present from birth. They can also develop after birth due to certain behaviours.
Mouth breathing, chronic and excessive thumb sucking or use of dummies and pacifiers can contribute to the narrowing of the hard palate as well. This happens because an infant’s tongue helps to develop the shape of the roof of the mouth by filling and shape the palate. If the mouth is constantly open and the tongue is not resting in the roof of the mouth, or if something narrower such as a pacifier or thumb is resting there instead, then it will form its shape around that structure instead. This means the palate will continue to narrow and heighten instead of broadening in the shape of the tongue.
Symptoms of a high-arched palate
- Feeding is difficult: In order for babies to feed through a bottle or breast, a suction seal needs to be made between the mouth and nipple or teat. High-arched palates make it difficult to create this suction and this is often the first signs of high arched palates.
- Mouth Breathing/Nasal breathing difficulty: The palate or roof of the mouth is also the floor of the nasal cavity. Therefore if the palate is tall this moves into the space of the nose and the nasal cavity shrinks. This then causes open-mouthed breathing which in turn causes more expansion in the upper palate and becomes a continuous cycle.
- Increased nasal congestion: Smaller nasal passages become more easily congested and swollen which can be difficult to clear. This then also causes mouth breathing. Since breathing from the mouth means the air breathed in isn’t filter as well as through the nose, there is greater potential for upper respiratory infection.
- Sleep difficulties: Snoring is common people with high arched palates as they are often mouth breathers. Breathing through the mouth does not allow for enough oxygen and the potential for developing sleep apnea increases.
- Speech difficulties: Individuals may have difficulty producing certain speech sounds that require the upper palate to make contact with the tongue such as the ‘s’ and ‘sh’ sounds.
- Structural changes: narrowing between the eyes and a down-turned mouth can occur due to these internal changes happening within the skull.
- Poor oral health: High-arched palate can cause swollen gums and crowding of the teeth due to a narrowed mouth.
Treatment for a high-arched palate
- Myofunctional therapy: This is a branch of therapy done by Speech Pathologist which uses tongue-repositioning exercises to strengthen and retrain the tongue to return to its natural position.
- Dental and Orthodontic Intervention: A dentist or orthodontist may recommend a palate expander if the teeth begin to crowd. This appliance pushes across the spans of the upper palate to gradually open the palate into a more functional shape.
- Oral-maxillofacial surgery: As a last resort for people experiencing significant speech or respiratory issues caused by the high arched palate, oral-maxillofacial surgery can be done to expand the upper palate arch. This opens the upper palate and creates more space in the nasal cavity. This in turn can help relieve congestion, improve the breathing, and eliminate sleep apnea.
These therapies can assist in speeding up the time taken to correct speech sounds in therapy. Often they are done in conjunction with speech therapy and work together to eliminate any speech errors present.
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This article was written by our Speech Pathologist Ashleigh Fattah who is a Speech Pathology Australia member. If you have speech pathology related questions, make an appointment. We‘ll provide you with simple and effective therapy targeted to your concerns. Contact us today.