If you've ever bitten or cut your tongue, you may have been surprised to see that it bled. Cuts inside the mouth, including on the tongue, can bleed due to the rich blood supply to these tissues. The tongue's blood supply comes from a large blood vessel called the lingual artery.
Anatomy of the Lingual Artery
This artery is a major blood vessel that supplies blood to the tongue and the floor of the mouth, reports Gray's Anatomy E-Book: The Anatomical Basis of Clinical Practice. It's a branch of the external carotid artery that supplies blood flow to the face and neck. As the Canadian Society for Vascular Surgery explains, the external carotid artery is, itself, a branch of the main carotid arteries, which run up the sides of the neck.
The lingual artery splits into three named branches, and each branch supplies blood to a different area of the tongue and mouth, as outlined by Gray's Anatomy:
Dorsal Lingual ArteriesThese two or three small blood vessels are located at the back of the tongue. They supply blood to the tongue's mucous membrane. These vessels also supply blood to other tissues in the back of the mouth, including the tonsils and the soft palate.
Sublingual ArteryThis branch passes forward through the tongue and supplies the muscles that make up the floor of the mouth, including the mylohyoid muscle. It also supplies blood to the sublingual gland, a major salivary gland in the floor of the mouth.
Deep Lingual ArteryThis branch is the end section of the tongue's artery. It's located on the underside of the tongue, close to the lingual frenulum — the small piece of tissue that attaches the tongue to the floor of the mouth.
Related Medical Procedures
Since this artery supplies blood to many tissues inside of the mouth, it may be affected during some medical procedures:
TonsillectomySometimes, the tonsils may need to be surgically removed. The Mayo Clinic explains that this procedure, also called a tonsillectomy, may be recommended for people with frequent or hard-to-treat tonsillitis. Enlarged tonsils that are causing breathing difficulties may also need to be surgically removed. Since this artery supplies blood to the tonsils, it may be affected during the procedure. A possible complication of tonsillectomy is severe bleeding during surgery or during the healing process, notes the Mayo Clinic.
GlossectomySurgical removal of parts of the tongue, known as a glossectomy, may also impact the artery within the tongue. This treatment may be required to treat tumors on the tongue, explains the Canadian Cancer Society. Only a small part of the tongue may need to be removed to treat smaller tumors, and stitches aren't always required. Larger tumors may require more extensive surgeries, including removal of a larger portion of the tongue. As Gray's Anatomy reports, the various components of the lingual artery play an important role in maintaining the tongue's blood supply during any surgical procedure involving the tongue.
Like the rest of the tissues inside the mouth, the tongue has a rich blood supply. This is thanks to the lingual artery. While this artery can be affected by some procedures in the oral cavity, dental and medical professionals have the expertise to minimize your risk of complications. If you're concerned that an upcoming medical procedure might affect your tongue's arteries, talk to your doctor or dentist.