My oldest son was born with a heart-shaped uvula. Whenever a nurse or medical student read that in my son’s chart, they would rush in to see what it looked like.
The purpose of the uvula has always been a mystery. It's also a mystery as to why some may not look round and bulbous.
This article is for all you parents out there who have ever wondered about the same thing.
What is the uvula?
That soft dangling thing that hangs down from the back of the throat is called a uvula.
Some babies’ uvulas are rounder, or cleft (heart-shaped/ bifid). For some babies, a bifid uvula is believed to be an incomplete submucous cleft palate. It was once thought a cleft uvula meant that there was an underlying cleft palate, however research has found that to not always be the case.
What exactly does the uvula do?
The uvula secretes mucus and saliva to lubricate the back of the throat. Researchers believe that it is instrumental in draining mucus from the nose, plays a role in immunity, and protects the throat from hot foods and liquids. It also directs fluid and food to either side thus preventing material from entering the nasal passages. (1)
In addition, and perhaps most interestingly, it helps create sounds and speech. “Languages such as Arabic, French, German, and Hebrew use consonants that are affected by the function of the uvula ...” (1).
All the mouth and throat structures, including the length and exact shape of the uvula, work together to produce a voice. “Most of the soft palate has mucous glands that produce a thicker type of secretion…the uvula has the ability to move backward and forward during certain functions releasing the fluid when needed and basting the pharynx with lubrication. This lubrication is known to aid in speech by lubricating the vocal cords” (1).
Should I be concerned about my baby’s uvula?
As previously mentioned, a heart-shaped uvula may, in some cases, be associated with a submucous cleft palate.