The tongue is a muscular organ in the mouth that serves a wide range of purposes, such as licking, breathing, tasting, swallowing, and articulating speech. Among the main functions of the language are the sense of taste, which allows us to differentiate between different flavors, the phonation and pronunciation of words. This is due to your muscle build and its location and movements.

The tongue is an extremely mobile set of muscles that is well supplied with blood and has many nerves. The muscles of the tongue are oblong in shape and covered with a dense layer of connective tissue. Above this layer, a special type of mucous membrane forms the surface of the tongue.

What is the tongue for in the digestive system?

As we already mentioned, the tongue has several functions in the digestive system. This is an essential organ that allows us to feed ourselves the way we do, it also allows us to savor and articulate. For this, various muscles intervene that fulfill a special function. So, the basic functions that the language performs are:

Eat and drink

Being extremely mobile, one of the main functions of the tongue in the digestive system is that it allows us to suck, turns solid food into a puree that can be swallowed (in this way the food bolus is formed) and swallowing begins. This action is essential in proper nutrition in the body, and without it nutrition would be almost impossible.

The tongue can also differentiate many flavors, such as sweet, salty, bitter, sour, or spicy. But it also detects if the food is bad, which helps us to know if the food is good for us.

Suction

The tongue is of vital importance, especially for babies when they breastfeed. When the tongue is moved back in the closed mouth it produces a low pressure, which absorbs the liquid to drink. Without this movement, the nutrition of newborns would not be possible as we know it and would probably lead to many difficulties such as drowning.

Chew, grind, press, salivate

When we chew, the tongue and cheeks work together to constantly move food between the teeth so that it can be chewed. The tongue presses the crushed food against the roof of the mouth and moves this bolus, which is then ready to be swallowed, into the throat.

The movements of the tongue also massage small glands directly below the tongue, squeezing out the saliva. This starts the pre-digestion of food and the bolus can slide down the esophagus more easily.

Swallowing

The tongue is the organ that sends the food bolus down the throat, which starts the swallowing process.

savor

The mucous membrane of the tongue contains many taste receptors to taste the things we eat and drink, these are found in the taste buds. This is where the chemicals responsible for taste are recognized by sensory cells.

The sense of taste used to be vital to our survival because it was the only way to taste food and differentiate between good and poisonous or bad food. Many taste stimuli also cause increased production of saliva and stomach acid to begin digestion.

Other functions of the language

Despite all the functions that we have already mentioned previously, the language also performs other activities that help us on a daily basis. This organ is not only important because it helps us to eat correctly, but it is also essential to protect our body and to communicate with others effectively.

Sensitivity to touch

The tip of the tongue is the part of the body that is most sensitive to touch. This fine touch sensitivity has two main tasks: on the one hand, it tests the mechanical characteristics of the food. This high level of sensitivity is the reason why small stones, bone chips, or fish bones feel so much larger than they actually are. This effect of increasing the tongue protects us.

On the other hand, the tongue searches the entire mouth for food remains after the first bite.

He speaks

Humans also use the mobility of the tongue to speak. Only when the tongue, lips, and teeth work together do throat sounds become understandable letters and words. The tongue is extremely agile and fast: it can produce more than 90 words per minute, using more than 20 different movements.

Defense against germs

All the defense cells of the tongue are collectively called the lingual tonsil. It is located at the back of the mouth at the base of the tongue and is part of the lymphatic ring of the tonsils. Along with the palatine tonsils and adenoids, the lingual tonsil is responsible for defending the body against germs that can enter through the mouth.

Parts of the tongue

The language can be divided into different sections:

  • Tip and sides of the tongue: These are parts of the movable section of the tongue. These areas are very mobile and can perform complex movements.
  • Back of the tongue: The upper surface of the tongue is called the back of the tongue. It has many sensory cells for our senses of taste and touch.
  • Root of the tongue: The root of the tongue cannot move freely and is connected to the floor of the mouth. It is also called the base of the tongue and cannot be seen from outside the mouth.
  • Middle groove of the tongue: the back of the tongue is slightly curved outward, and in the middle there is a groove that divides the tongue in half longitudinally, this is known as the middle groove.

What are the papillae of the tongue for?

The rough surface of the tongue is due to a special feature of the mucous membrane – the papillae, which appear as small bumps on the tongue. They are made up of cells that protrude from underneath. These papillae have different jobs to do:

  • Mechanical papillae: These papillae firmly attach the mucous membrane to the tongue. They also detect touch so that we can feel the shape and texture of food in our mouth.
  • Taste Buds: The taste buds make the surface of the tongue much larger. This allows as many of the embedded sensory cells to come into contact with food particles for tasting.

Tongue muscles and their function

The muscles of the tongue are various and each one fulfills a specific function:

Intrinsic muscles

Intrinsic muscles only attach to other structures on the tongue. There are four paired intrinsic muscles of the tongue and they are named for the direction they travel: the longitudinal, inferior longitudinal, transverse and vertical muscles of the tongue.

These muscles affect the shape and size of the tongue, for example by rolling the tongue, and play a role in facilitating speech, eating and swallowing.

extrinsic muscles

  • Genioglossus: responsible for sticking out, depressing and moving the tip of the tongue back and down.
  • Hyoglossus: depresses and retracts the tongue.
  • Stylized: retracts and elevates the tongue.
  • Palatoglossal: elevates the posterior aspect of the tongue.
Samantha Robson
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Dr. Samantha Robson ( CRN: 0510146-5) is a nutritionist and website content reviewer related to her area of ​​expertise. With a postgraduate degree in Nutrition from The University of Arizona, she is a specialist in Sports Nutrition from Oxford University and is also a member of the International Society of Sports Nutrition.

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