Wharton's duct's, also known as the submandibular duct's, are the main transport channels under the tongue. Each Wharton's duct leads from the submandibular glands to the two small openings under the tongue where saliva enters the mouth. Wharton's ducts are small, but their influence on oral health is large.
Where Are These Structures Located?
The submandibular glands lie under the tongue, on the right and left sides of the floor of the mouth. (Encyclopaedia Britannica offers a helpful anatomical diagram.) These glands produce roughly two-thirds of the saliva that you need every day to speak and chew.
Wharton's duct is a thin tube, about 5 cm in length, where the saliva flow (much like water in the pipes of your home) starts from each submandibular gland on the right and left side of the mouth to the sublingual gland and then to two small openings underneath the tongue called the sublingual caruncles.
Why Is It Called a Wharton's Duct?
Much like other parts of the body, these structures were named after the scientist who located them. According to A Biographical History of Endocrinology, Thomas Wharton (1614-1673) was an English scientist who studied various glands of the body, and first pinpointed these structures in his documentation of head and neck anatomy. Wharton also located and named the thyroid gland in the lower neck region.
Why Is Wharton's Duct Important?
Saliva is the body's natural lubricant. The transfer of saliva from the salivary glands to the mouth is crucial in the functions of chewing, speaking, swallowing and washing debris from the teeth. Occasionally, a duct can be blocked with calcifications, causing a salivary stone. In the event of a salivary gland or duct blockage, the saliva cannot pass through the duct, and the buildup within the gland can cause pain and pressure.
If left untreated, a lack of salivary flow can result in xerostomia (dry mouth). Xerostomia is a serious condition that can lead to halitosis (bad breath), along with a greater potential for oral diseases from acid and bacterial buildup, such as gum disease and dental decay. Consult your dental professional if you notice any signs or symptoms of a blocked salivary duct.
Understanding the anatomy of the mouth increases health literacy and leads to better overall understanding of whole-body health. Good oral health leads to good total health, and that starts with taking the time to understand the structure and function of the body.