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The greater palatine foramen (GPF) is a natural opening in the human skull that allows for the passing of palatine vessels and greater palatine nerve. It mainly derives its name from the latter feature. The greater palatine foramen is also named due to its location and for being the more prominent opening of two types of palatine foramina.
The greater palatine foramen is located on the hard palate, which is a thin bony plate of the skull originating from the palatine bone that forms the roof of the mouth. This opening can actually be found at either of the hard palate's posterior angles. As part of the maxilla, or upper jaw, the hard palate covers the arch formed by the upper teeth.
Due to the hard palate's location near the teeth, the greater palatine foramen's location is also described as near the second or third molar — two of the rearmost teeth. According to many anatomists, the GPF is near the third molar in more than half of humans. Most other people have their GPF near the second molar or between the second and third molar.
The greater palatine foramen is responsible for transport of two features: the descending palatine vessel and the greater palatine nerve. The descending palatine vessel is also called the descending palatine artery to denote the type of vessel it is. An artery of the head, it emerges from the GPF to terminate at the incisive canal, where it joins with another artery of the head called the sphenopalatine artery. The other structure carried by the greater palatine foramen — the greater palatine nerve — also descends in its course like the aforementioned artery. It is responsible for innervating the hard palate's glands as well as the gums and mucous membrane.
The greater palatine foramen is also referred to as the anterior palatine foramen. This is because it is located in front of one or two openings known as the lesser palatine foramen (LPF) or foramina. This feature can be found at the palatine bone's pyramidal process. Like the greater palatine foramen, the lesser palatine foramen, or foramina, carries a palatine nerve — in this case, the lesser palatine nerve. Both openings comprise a passage in the skull called the greater palatine canal. Also known as the pterygopalatine canal, it combines the transmission of the descending palatine vessels and the greater palatine nerve through the GPF, and the lesser palatine nerve through the LPF.