Why do you need a tongue? How does the tongue taste things? Is yours healthy? We’ve got all the answers and more. The tongue is a complex, flexible muscle with essential functions in eating, tasting, speaking, and cleaning teeth and the oral cavity. But it also needs to be cared for, as many microorganisms live on it, which can negatively impact digestion, oral hygiene, or breathing.
Why Do You Need One?
Long before you can even chew, babies already use their tongues for sucking. Apart from its importance for nourishment and food intake, it is also significantly involved in language formation. The position of the tip of the tongue, edges, and middle determines the sounds produced.
We all know it determines taste and whether the food eaten contains dangerous foreign bodies. The touch-sensitive surface reliably detects bones, splinters, or dirt—anything that shouldn’t be in your mouth—before they can cause damage to the body. Without a doubt, the tongue is a highly flexible muscle well supplied with blood and many nerves.
Structure From Front to Back
Your tongue is a uniquely mobile muscle. You can shorten it, like flexing a bicep, or lengthen the muscle like when you lick ice cream. When the jaw is closed, the tongue fills the space between the palate and the base of the tongue.
Your tongue is divided into different parts:
- Frenulum (the little fold of tissue under your tongue that connects it to the bottom of your mouth)
Also under the tongue is the hyoid bone, the only bone in the body that isn’t connected to others.
How It Helps You Chew
When chewing, the tongue mixes the food with saliva, which is pushed out of glands under your tongue. Inner tongue muscles help this process. Then it brings food and drink into the correct swallowing position.
How This Muscle Recognizes Taste
This muscular organ is covered with moist, pink tissue called the mucous membrane. Tiny bumps called papillae are responsible for a tongue’s rough texture. Taste buds cover the surfaces of each papilla.
Your taste buds on the top have special receptors that react when they come into contact with food. You can taste sweet on its tip, bitter only at the back part of it, and salty and sour on the sides.
But did you know that the tongue has two lesser-known taste zones? This amazing body part also detects umami flavors—for hearty and protein-rich foods—and another zone for fats and oils.
Is Your Tongue Healthy?
Tongue health is important because the very back acts as the first protective shield against germs through defense cells. When healthy, it looks pale red, is slightly moist, and has good mobility. The surface doesn’t show any changes in structure or color, and the edges are also pale red like the surface.
If swollen, it can signify an allergic reaction. On the other hand, a thin, smooth tongue could indicate, among other things, an intestinal disease. Yellow plaque can be a sign of liver or gallbladder disease. Deep cracks can suggest problems with the upper digestive system or intestines.
Stress, anger, too much sugar and fat consumption, or vitamin C deficiency affect oral hygiene. For example, small blisters, ulcers, or inflammation can form on the taste buds. However, its condition is only part of a diagnosis, and a provider at Danville Family Dentistry looks at other signs to diagnose a possible condition.
If you think it’s time for a dental checkup to ensure oral health, call our office today at 317-745-4400.
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Disclaimer: The information included in this article is for educational purposes only. It should not be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.