We're all familiar with saliva as a bodily function that helps us swallow and keep our mouths from feeling too dry. But there's a lot of fascinating things saliva does that you probably haven't even realized! Did you know that saliva helps us digest, taste, speak, and even protects our tooth enamel by breaking down acids from food? There are many kinds of salivary glands located in different areas of the mouth with various functions. Let's go over one particular type, the von Ebner salivary gland, what it secretes, and how it relates to our ability to taste.
Von Ebner Glands: What Do They Do?
As noted above, saliva has several purposes in the overall health of our mouths. Saliva protects our teeth and gums from bacteria and acids, lubricates our mouths, begins the digestion process, and plays a significant role in the complex taste process. The three pairs of major salivary glands (parotid, submandibular, and sublingual glands) and many minor salivary glands are in several oral cavity areas: the cheeks, lips, floor of the mouth, tongue, palate, and pharynx.
The von Ebner glands, also known as serous glands, are minor salivary glands located on both sides of your oral cavity toward the back of your tongue. Part of their role is to secrete lipase and amylase, digestive enzymes that start to break down food as you chew. But this type of gland is unique among the many glands in your mouth for its other purpose: aiding taste!
There are over a thousand tastebuds located in spongy bumps called papillae covering your tongue. You can probably see them in the mirror when you stick your tongue out. Or you can notice their texture when you rub your tongue against your teeth. And there are four kinds of papillae: filiform, circumvallate, fungiform, and foliate. The von Ebner glands are near the foliate and circumvallate papillae, found mainly on your tongue's back and sides.
When you eat and drink, your saliva glands secrete saliva. Saliva washes food particles over the little bumps on your tongue. This action sends flavor onto the taste receptors into the gustatory (or taste-oriented) part 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. This evidence makes scientists think that von Ebner glands function in a very significant role. They may play an essential part in connecting bitter flavors to our taste receptors!
Your ability to taste can be significantly altered by either the loss of tongue papillae or saliva loss. So it's no surprise that one common cause of taste sensation changes is dry mouth, which a lack of saliva production can cause. There's a host of risk factors that can lead to a change in saliva production. From aging to smoking, to diabetes to certain prescription medications, it's a common medical issue. Even head and neck radiation from cancer treatment can also cause dry mouth. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to treat dry mouth. What's most important is to speak to your dental or medical professional about it once you've noticed it has become a constant problem, not just a side effect of not drinking enough water the day before, for example.
Where would we be without our von Ebner glands? Indeed, the ability to taste delicious flavors and indulge in our favorite foods is an exceptional occurrence we shouldn't take for granted. So it's critical to protect these saliva glands, which in turn, will be protecting your ability to taste! Make an appointment with your dental or medical professional if you start experiencing any changes in your ability to taste or produce saliva. They can help you create a plan to ease symptoms and maintain good oral health!
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.