Von Ebner Glands: What Do They Do?

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Your saliva help you taste, digest, protect your tooth enamel and even speak, but did you know there are multiple kinds of salivary glands? Read on to learn about how one of these glands helps you to enjoy your food.

What Are von Ebner Glands?

Saliva plays several functions in the overall health of the oral cavity. Saliva protects the teeth and gums from bacteria and acids, lubricates your mouth, begins the digestion process and plays a significant role in the complex process of taste. The six major and many minor salivary glands are found in the cheeks, lips, floor of the mouth, tongue, palate and pharynx, writes the American Academy of Otolaryngology.

The von Ebner glands, also known as serous glands, are minor salivary glands located on both sides toward the back of your tongue. Part of their role is to secrete amylase, a digestive enzyme that starts to break down food as you chew, notes Hole's Essentials of Human Anatomy and Physiology. But the von Ebner type is unique among the glands in your mouth for its other purpose: aiding taste.

Salivary Glands and Taste

Your tongue has over a thousand tastebuds located in spongy bumps called papillae, of which there are four kinds: filiform, fungiform, foliate and circumvallate. The von Ebner glands are located near the foliate and circumvallate papillae, which are found mainly on the back and sides of the tongue. When you eat or drink, writes the University of New South Wales' Embryology, the liquid they secrete washes food particles over these protrusions, sending flavor onto the taste receptors and on into the gustatory (or taste-oriented) portion of your brain.

According to the International Journal of Oral Health Dentistry, research has found that von Ebner glands also secrete a protein unlike any other found in the mouth. This protein is similar to one found in the nasal cavity that aids olfactory receptors, making scientists think that von Ebner glands may play an even bigger role in connecting flavors to taste receptors.

Conditions That Affect Taste

Your ability to taste can be significantly altered by either the loss of tongue papillae or loss of saliva. One common cause of changes in taste sensation is dry mouth. This change in saliva production is common in older people and can be a side effect of certain medications. Head and neck radiation from cancer treatment can also cause dry mouth, according to the American Cancer Society.

Seek your oral healthcare provider if you start experiencing any changes in your ability to taste or produce saliva. Your dentist can help you create a plan to alleviate symptoms and maintain good oral health. They may also recommend a mouthwash like Colgate Hydris Dry Mouth, which relieves dry mouth for four hours.

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  • Enamel – this is the outer and hardest part of the tooth that has the most mineralized tissue in the body. It can be damaged by decay if teeth are not cared for properly.

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  • 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.