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Why Is Wharton's Duct Important?

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Medically Reviewed By Colgate Global Scientific Communications

Have you ever been curious about how saliva moves through your mouth and why it's an essential substance for your oral health? If so, you may have come across the part of your oral anatomy known as Wharton's ducts. Also called submandibular ducts, they are the tongue's main transport channels of saliva. Whether you've had transport issues with your saliva or are just generally curious about your mouth's anatomy, they're a fascinating aspect of the mouth's structure. Let's go over the location of Wharton's ducts, where their name comes from, and why they're so important.

Where Are These Structures Located?

You may be wondering, where exactly is Wharton's duct located? 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 considerable. The submandibular glands lie under the tongue, on the right and left sides of the mouth's floor. The Encyclopaedia Britannica offers a helpful anatomical diagram that gives you a better sense of where your Wharton's ducts are located. These glands produce roughly two-thirds of the saliva that you need every day to speak and chew!

Imagine Wharton's duct is similar to a pipe in your home where water flows through. Wharton's duct is a thin tube, about 5 cm in length, and an essential carrier of your saliva. Each submandibular duct begins at the right and left sides of the mouth. The submandibular duct openings are underneath the tongue. These openings that empty into the oral cavity are also known as 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. He first pinpointed these structures in his documentation of head and neck anatomy. Wharton even located and named the thyroid gland in the lower neck region. Apparently, he was quite the busy scientist!

Why Is Wharton's Duct Important?

Saliva is a natural lubricant of the mouth, so the organs and ducts that play a role in saliva's movement are essential! Saliva's movement from the saliva glands to the mouth is crucial for our everyday actions. From chewing and speaking to swallowing and washing debris from our teeth, these routine actions we take for granted all need saliva.

Some issues can arise that relate to the submandibular duct. Occasionally, calcifications can block a duct, causing a salivary stone. In the event of a salivary gland or duct blockage, the saliva cannot pass through the duct as it usually would. This inhibits it from continuing on its path for its essential functions. It can also cause pain and pressure to build up where the blocked gland is. If left untreated, a lack of salivary flow can result in xerostomia, more commonly known as dry mouth. Xerostomia is a condition that can lead to halitosis (bad breath). It also has the potential to cause more serious oral diseases from acid and bacterial buildups since the saliva is not washing away these substances as it usually would. People with dry mouth are more at risk for gum disease and dental decay. We recommend consulting your dental professional if you notice any signs or symptoms of a blocked salivary duct. That way, you can catch the issue at its source before it leads to more severe symptoms!

While processing information about Wharton's duct anatomy may seem confusing at first, we think it's helpful to understand your mouth's anatomy. When you become more comfortable with the oral cavity's inner workings, you gain a better understanding of your whole-body health. And good oral health is imperative for good overall health! When we understand the risks associated with not following a routine of brushing our teeth and gums, cleaning between our teeth with interdental devices, and following with a mouthrinse, we become more likely to adhere to these practices. We believe it all starts with taking the time to understand the body's structure and daily functions.

Oral Care Center articles are reviewed by an oral health medical professional. This information is for educational purposes only. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist, physician or other qualified healthcare provider. 

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