Tongue Functions and the Roles It Plays

The mouth is a busy place: speaking, breathing, chewing, drinking. While the teeth might be the all-stars of the mouth (Let's face it, you notice when someone has a shiny white smile or, unfortunately, when they need some dental work.), don't forget about the tongue. The tongue does all the thankless grunt work. In fact, tongue function is involved in quite a few mouth maneuvers.

1. Tongue and Speech

Speech is the product of air leaving the lungs via the mouth. The tongue is responsible for different sounds depending on how it's positioned in the mouth. Since the tongue is so flexible, it can switch positions quickly to make a rapid succession of sounds. It does this so quickly that the tongue can produce more than 90 words per minute.

2. Tongue and Taste

Taste buds are responsible for the ability to taste food. There are five different taste sensations: sweet, sour, salty, bitter and savory, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. Taste buds for each of the five sensations are scattered along the tongue's surface, rather than localized in specific sections. All tastes are perceived equally well everywhere.

3. Tongue and Mastication

Mastication is the process of combining ground up food particles with naturally occurring saliva. Mastication happens at the same time as grinding. Grinding is when teeth convert large food particles into small ones. The tongue first positions food between the teeth for chewing before mixing it with saliva, explains PubMed Health

4. Tongue and Swallowing

After masticating food particles, the tongue helps round them into masses known as bolus. Once the bolus is formed, the tongue pushes them toward the esophagus found in the back of the mouth before finding its way to the stomach for digestion.

A good oral care regimen consists of brushing at least two times each day complemented by flossing. But as you focus on taking care of your teeth, don't neglect your tongue. Brush with a toothbrush like the Colgate 360° toothbrush. Its unique cheek and tongue cleaner comfortably removes odor-causing bacteria for fresher breath. And don't forget to schedule regular cleanings with your dentist. They can assure you that your mouth is healthy and that your teeth and tongue function properly.

This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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  • Dentin – this is the layer of the tooth under the enamel. If decay makes it through the enamel, it next attacks the dentin — where millions of tiny tubes lead directly to the dental pulp.

  • Pulp – this is the soft tissue found in the center of all teeth, where the nerve tissue and blood vessels are located. If tooth decay reaches the pulp, you usually feel pain and may require a root canal procedure.