We use it to taste, swallow, talk, chew, take in vital medications and prepare food for digestion. It is one of the most versatile and limber muscles in our body. We use it all day every day and it doesn’t get a bit of rest at night. As part of our body’s daily defenses, this small member plays a huge role in our life.
While our teeth and gums are usually the first things we think of when it comes to oral hygiene, our tongue is essential for a fully-functioning mouth. That is why a thorough dental exam from one of our dentists at the Placerville Dental Group includes an examination of your tongue, to make sure it is healthy and problem free. After all, your teeth work in unison with your tongue in many ways, such as:
- Speech – See how essential it is to communication by trying to speak without using or moving your tongue. Students of a foreign language also learn that correct placement of the tongue means the difference between being understood or met with looks of puzzlement. When a baby is born, his or her tongue is capable of making all sounds of human speech, but as we grow and learn our primary languages, our ability to make those unused sounds is lost. Muscle memory in our tongue is why a language learned after our early teen years results in an accent based on our first language.
- Eating and drinking – You probably don’t want to try chewing, moving food around your mouth, or swallowing without your tongue, because it is next to impossible. Your tongue with its ability to move in so many different directions, is working alongside (literally) your teeth to grab, bite, chew and swallow food. Your tongue is also moving small glands directly underneath it that produce saliva, essential for food absorption and good dental health.
- Tasting – Have you even had an illness that made you lose your ability to taste, often a result of an upper respiratory infection? Eating without tasting becomes one more daily chore and the return of your taste sensations are very welcome. Our taste buds pick up the flavors of sweet, sour, bitter, spicy and umami (the flavor of richness). Your 10,000 taste buds also help keep your diet free of unhealthy foods, because our nose and our tongue can often tell when food has gone bad even if our eyes do not.
- Keeping teeth healthy – Since our tongue is so sensitive, it is usually the first to alert us of any abrupt change inside our mouth. Whether it is some food lodged where it should not be to a more serious matter of a chipped or jagged tooth, pay attention to your tongue’s warning that something’s not right in your mouth. Make an appointment to get any new development checked out — trust your tongue, it knows your mouth very well!
It is apparent that our tongue is an amazing, if under appreciated, member of the body. What can we do to protect this incredible muscle? Look for a future article about simple yet important ways to protect this vital part of your mouth. If it helps to bite your tongue while you wait, please do so gently.