You tongue is one of the most important parts of your mouth because it helps you do, well, pretty much everything. Your tongue is what helps you breathe, taste, swallow and speak, but do you know exactly how it works? Let’s taste a closer look!
First things first: your tongue is made up of eight different muscles. Four of these muscles are intrinsic, which means they can help change the shape of the tongue and aren’t attached to bone. The other four are extrinsic muscles, which means they are anchored to the head and neck at the base of the skull, the bone in your throat, the owner jaw and the lower palate. It’s these extrinsic muscles that help you be able to move the position of your tongue.
On average, a tongue is between 3-4 inches long and weighs between 60 and 70 grams. Seems pretty big, right? Only about 2/3 of your tongue is ever visible, though — the rest of it stays hidden in the back of your throat, helping you swallow and breathe. Contrary to popular belief, though, the tongue is not the strongest muscle in the body. However, it is the hardest working muscle. If it weren’t we’d get tired from speaking very quickly!
The entire tongue is covered with a mucous membrane called the mucosa, and this membrane is covered in tiny little bumps called papillae. When you burn your tongue and it feels a little sandy, those are the irritated papillae you feel! The papillae contain the taste buds and on average, a human mouth has 3,000-10,000 of these receptions that help you enjoy ice cream, pizza, and your other favorite foods. And, while many people think that there are different areas of the tongue that taste sweet, sour, bitty, salty and savory foods, that’s actually a misconception. There’s no one area of your tongue that tastes only one flavor, so don’t think you only have to chew on a specific side to get the full effect of a meal!
The upper part of the tongue is called the dorsum, and it’s separated by some fibrous tissues that make up the lingual septum. When you open up and say “ahh”, the lingual septum is that line you see straight down the middle. And, while the dorsum is rough and bumpy thanks to all those papillae, the bottom of the tongue is quite smooth. You’ll notice that it also tends to be darker in color, more reddish-blue than bright red. That’s because the bottom of your tongue contains most of the muscle’s blood vessels, which in turn lead into arteries. It’s these vessels that give the bottom of your tongue its darker color. The base of the tongue is anchored to the bottom of your mouth by the hyoid bone, and this base is called the frenum.
The tongue helps you to chew by crushing food against the roof of the mouth, and aids in swallowing by helping to push the food in the back of your mouth. And, in addition to the saliva from the glands in and around the tongue help produce, the tongue helps clean the teeth by gently brushing up against them and removing excess food particles. When it comes to speaking, it’s your tongues’ flexibility and able to position and re-position itself quickly that helps us articulate letters in myriad different ways.
There are several different issues that can occur on your tongue, many of which we have discussed before. A white tongue is caused by an excessive growth of yeast in the mouth, though a tongue scraper can help you ensure that excess bacteria and yeast is kept at bay. Burning your tongue is another common issue, though thankfully the cells regenerate quickly and most cases heal very fast. Tongue piercings can also cause many different oral health issues, though when properly performed they can heal up just fine.
Finally, a common issue with children is tongue thrust, which can occur when a child sucks his or her thumb after the teeth begin to come in. Although it’s often difficult to treat, behavioral therapy can help break this habit.
Who knew there was so much to know about the tongue? Although it may not be the strongest muscle, we’d definitely be lost without it. Got an interesting fact about the tongue you’d like to share? Let us know in the comments!