Whether we are discussing a brand new baby, an older child, or an adult, a high arched palate can contribute to a host of issues.
What Is A High-Arched Palate?
When you hear this term it is referring to the structure of the hard palate being tall and narrow. The hard palate is the roof of the mouth and should be wide. A high arched palate means that the depth of the palate/vertical distance between the alveolar ridge and the roof of the mouth is larger than expected.
In utero, the baby’s tongue should be coming into constant contact with the hard palate which works to widen it. If this doesn’t occur, a baby can be born with a high arched palate. It may develop after birth if the baby’s tongue is not resting on the palate. Mouth breathing, thumb sucking, excessive pacifier use, and/or a tongue tie can contribute to the formation of a high arched palate. Anything that restricts the mobility of the tongue, such as a tongue tie, may change the shape of a baby’s mouth resulting in a high arched palate.
Did you know that the tongue, when resting on the palate as it should, acts as a natural palate expander?
It is important that we seek a feeding therapist with training in tongue ties if we suspect an infant has a high arched palate, or a myofunctional therapist if we suspect a child (4+) or adult has a high arched palate. They may make other referrals if needed but there will almost always be oral dysfunction when there is a high arched palate!
Does it seem like there is a lot more talk about oral dysfunction, tongue ties, high arched palates more recently? Is this a new thing? A fad? It’s not! Our jaws are smaller (as our skulls are smaller), our teeth more crowded, and we are more likely to have oral dysfunction as a result of diet and epigenetics than our ancestors were.
Why does it matter?
Because our shrinking skulls can affect breathing, sleep, digestion, jaw growth, and the way teeth erupt. Our hard palate serves at the floor of the nose and as a child grows, if the tongue is not resting on the palate, it may continue to get higher and narrower. This leads to less room in the nasal cavity, a smaller nasal passageway leads to more congestion that may be difficult to clear. Mouth breathing that may arise can lead to dental and gum issues. Sleep difficulties also follow and can develop into sleep disordered breathing which can lead to ADHD-like symptoms.
High palates are a symptom in a complex situation and may be linked to tongue ties and almost always linked to oral dysfunction. Thankfully, treatment and management is similar to that of someone with a tongue tie. A tongue tie savvy therapist (Feeding therapist OT/SLP for 0-3) or a Myofunctional Therapist (for cognitive ages 4- adult) can help assess and develop a treatment plan. These treatment plans focus on soft tissue and will often include a referral to an airway dentist or orthodontist who can address hard tissue (e.g., bone, teeth) when dental expansion is needed.