What Is Palatal Petechiae?

It mostly affects the softest top part of your mouth.

Your oral health includes your teeth, gums, and other body parts involved in your oral-facial system.

Some common oral health concerns include canker sores, dry mouth, or cavities. However, one condition you may be less familiar with is palatal petechiae, which can appear on the soft palate.

What Is the Soft Palate?

The soft palate is the back top part of the mouth connected to the hard palate. Unlike the hard palate, the soft palate does not contain any bones—it's flexible, as it contains tissue and muscle fibers. The muscles of the soft palate help with:

  • Breathing
  • Talking
  • Swallowing


When the condition appears, it doesn't always look the same for every person. "It can range from physical bruising to petechiae—little burst blood vessels from suction," Mark Wolff, DDS, dean of the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine, told Health.

Here's more of what you need to know about palatal petechiae.

What Causes Palatal Petechiae?

Any instance of palatal petechiae won't come as a total surprise. But, according to Wolff, you'll have at least some awareness that this has happened to you since you can end up with some "soreness" near the back of the roof of your mouth.

With that in mind, palatal petechiae can show up for different reasons. Two things that might explain the appearance of the condition are oral sex and the presence of illness.

Oral Sex

Palatal petechiae may occur if a person is sexually active and engages in oral sex. Additionally, Wolff said that dentists see palatal petechiae "periodically," although it's not overly common. (Still, that shouldn't stop you from attending routine dental appointments.)

Illnesses

Palatal petechiae can also be a sign of or occur with illnesses. For example, the mouth condition has been found in some cases of COVID-19.

It may also show up with mononucleosis (also known as mono)—a viral infection that leads to symptoms such as fever and swollen lymph nodes in the neck. Researchers found that the probability of an individual having infectious mononucleosis rose with the presence of palatal petechiae and other symptoms.

Additionally, beyond the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), which can cause mono, other viruses can be a culprit, too. Adenoviruses—which are responsible for pharyngitis (sore throat) and tonsillitis (inflammation of the tonsils)—and cytomegalovirus (CMV) have been some of the germs noted to cause palatal petechiae.

Strep throat can also cause palatal petechiae.

What Is CMV?

CMV is a virus that can affect people of any age. A person with CMV may not show any symptoms. However, symptoms of mild infection may include:

  • Fever
  • Sore throat
  • Fatigue
  • Swollen glands

CMV infections can be more severe for individuals with weaker immune systems and for babies born with the virus, leading to serious symptoms or problems.

Other Concerns About Palatal Petechiae

If you end up with palatal petechiae, you won't have it forever. "It heals like any other bruise," explained Wolff, adding, "it could last for days to a week or so."

Also, the appearance of palatal petechiae may not raise any concerns for dentists or other healthcare providers. However, that changes if the condition shows up in children, as it can be one of the signs that a child has been abused.

Abuse

Child abuse and neglect refer to the mistreatment of children and adolescents younger than 18 years old by people who have children in their care (e.g., parents, caregivers, coaches, or teachers). The mistreatment may occur as:

  • Physical abuse: Purposely causing physical harm to a child that results in bodily injuries
  • Sexual abuse: Pressuring or making a child participate in sexual actions
  • Emotional abuse: Destroying the way a child feels about themselves or feels in general
  • Neglect: Failing to provide a child's basic physical (e.g., food, education, medical care) or emotional needs

More than half of child abuse cases include injuries related to the head, neck, and face. Oral injuries from child abuse or neglect might not always be visible. Still, they can show up in different ways (e.g., as burns, bruises, or teeth and bone fractures). But, in particular, palatal petechiae or other unexplained palatal injuries may be due to sexual abuse in the form of forced oral sex.

If healthcare providers—including dental health providers—suspect or know that a child has been abused, they must report it. Child protective services, law enforcement agencies, or both will use the report as part of the case's investigation.

Where To Seek Help

If you are a victim of child abuse or know someone who might be, call or text the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-422-4453 to speak with a professional crisis counselor.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

911

A Quick Review

Palatal petechiae is bruising on the roof of your mouth. It can occur through oral sex or with the presence of an illness, but in some cases, its appearance may be a sign of abuse.

Typically, palatal petechiae goes away on its own, and it shouldn't prevent you from seeing a dentist for routine dental care or a healthcare provider for treatment if an infection is the cause.

Was this page helpful?
Sources
Health.com uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Oral health conditions.

  2. Helwany M, Rathee M. Anatomy, head and neck, palate. In: StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing; 2022.

  3. Koray M, Tosun T. Oral mucosal trauma and injuries. In: Gözler S, ed. Trauma in Dentistry. IntechOpen; 2019.

  4. Drago F, Ciccarese G, Merlo G, et al. Oral and cutaneous manifestations of viral and bacterial infections: Not only COVID-19 disease. Clinics in Dermatology. 2021;39(3):384-404. doi:10.1016/j.clindermatol.2021.01.021

  5. Cai X, Ebell MH, Haines L. Accuracy of signs, symptoms, and hematologic parameters for the diagnosis of infectious mononucleosis: a systematic review and meta-analysis. J Am Board Fam Med. 2021;34(6):1141-1156. doi:10.3122/jabfm.2021.06.210217

  6. Drago F, Ciccarese G, Merlo G, et al. Oral and cutaneous manifestations of viral and bacterial infections: Not only COVID-19 disease. Clin Dermatol. 2021;39(3):384-404.

  7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About cytomegalovirus (CMV).

  8. Costacurta M, Benavoli D, Arcudi G, Docimo R. Oral and dental signs of child abuse and neglect. Oral Implantol (Rome). 2016;8(2-3):68-73. doi:10.11138/orl/2015.8.2.068

  9. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Fast facts: preventing child abuse & neglect.

  10. Fisher-Owens SA, Lukefahr JL, Tate AR, et al. Oral and dental aspects of child abuse and neglectPediatrics. 2017;140(2):e20171487. doi:10.1542/peds.2017-1487

Related Articles