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What is a Philtrum?

By Harriette Halepis
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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The philtrum refers to the groove that most humans have above the upper lip. The philtrum is also referred to as the infranasal depression. This portion of the human face is formed during embryonic development. While seemingly useless, the philtrum allows for extensive facial expressions, and it also allows humans to speak clearly and precisely.

When this portion of the face is not formed during development, a cleft lip may develop instead. Babies who are born without a groove above the upper lip may be victims of fetal alcohol syndrome. In most cases, the length and depth of this facial groove is often determined by genetics. Some people have short philtrums, which also can be a genetic defect.

Causes of a shortened philtrum include Cohen disease, chromosome 18q deletion syndrome, DiGeorge syndrome, and Oral-facial-digital syndrome. Babies who are not born with a groove above the upper lip may have Williams Syndrome. This syndrome occurs when certain genes are missing. Often, parents that have Williams syndrome can pass this defect onto their children, though this is not always the case.

Symptoms of Williams syndrome include delayed speech, trouble concentrating, learning disorders, strange personality traits, and a sunken chest. Often, this syndrome is not noticed or recognized until a child is much older. Once symptoms of Williams Syndrome have been found, medical attention should be sought immediately.

Philtrums are similar to fingerprints in many ways. All philtrums tend to be different from one person to the next, though this small grooved area is essential for proper speech and mouth development. Children that are born with a cleft lip, or hare lip, should be seen by speech therapists right away in order to avoid speech difficulties.

The word philtrum comes from the Ancient Greek word philtron, which means to love or to kiss. According to Ancient Greek mythology, the philtrum is one of the most sensual parts of the body. Thus, many stories related to this portion of the face are woven into Greek mythology. In addition, this small indentation is largely mentioned in the Jewish Talmud.

Other traditions include stories of angels hushing babies inside of the womb by placing one finger above a child's mouth. Within a number of religions, it is believed that babies hold all the secrets of Heaven prior to being born. Thus, angels must quiet a child by erasing such memories before a child can be born. These folktales include the hypothesis that an angel's touch upon a baby creates a small indentation.

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Discussion Comments
By anon295355 — On Oct 05, 2012

Upon pondering this, the reason we have a philtrum (cupid's bow) is to facilitate facial expressions such as smiling. Without the filtrum, it would be uncomfortable to affect a wide smile. Skin is stretchy but not stretchy enough to produce a grin with ease.

By anon293623 — On Sep 26, 2012

In evolutionary terms, I would hint through attractiveness, the human philtrum length is shortening while the chin length is increasing away from our ape ancestors who more commonly have a large philtrum length and smaller chins. --Paul R., London

By jamsie — On May 18, 2011

So that's what that thing is called! I never knew that there was an actual name for that part of your body.

One question though -- if a philtrum is like a fingerprint, can people actually be identified by their philtrums? I know that some immigration agencies are now identifying people by their ear shapes; could the same apply for philtrums?

By anon153191 — On Feb 16, 2011

Check it out. Primates do not have the cupids bow. Humans have a two-chromosome difference from the pig, rat and primate. But present science agrees with that humans didn't evolve from a rat or pig.

Could it not also be correct that, quite possibly that, we are not from primates either, because of the two- chromosome difference?

God made man in (our) image (Genesis 1:26) from the Heavens. Giving basis to the face that Man/Homo Erectus is from who knows where out in outer freakin' space!

The Religion Myth is correct. There are ancient aliens playing God! That's why we have the Cupids Bow and primates do not. They didn't receive God's touch/self awareness and free will. I'm sure there are many Homo Erectus in the universe. If not, then how can we explain our own existence?

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