function of the tongue -- man and little girl sticking their tongues out at the camera

What Is the Function of the Tongue?

You use it every day for eating and talking, but did you know that your tongue also plays an important role in your dental health? What is the function of the tongue—why is it important? To start with, there are four main functions of the tongue: tasting, chewing, swallowing, and speech. And there are a few ways your tongue can affect your dental health.

How do you know if your tongue is healthy?

Here’s a fun fact: the tongue is the only muscle in your body that does not connect to bones on both ends. 

The tongue is a muscular organ joined to a bone in the back of the mouth, but not at the front. Various ligaments and muscles connect the tongue to other areas of the throat and jaw, giving the tongue the flexibility it needs to aid in different mouth processes. 

Your tongue is covered with a mucous membrane that helps keep the tongue moist so it does not dry out. A healthy tongue should always feel moist. If you ever have a dry mouth, you’ll notice your tongue becomes parched and possibly red and irritated. Without moisture on the tongue, your taste buds can also dry out, making food taste strange.

The bumps on the surface of your tongue make it easier for bacteria to collect there. If left alone, this bacteria can cause bad breath and even affect the rest of your mouth. When brushing your teeth and gums, don’t forget to give your tongue a light brushing as well. 

And don’t forget to include your tongue during your next oral cancer self-screening. Oral cancer can develop on, under, or at the base of the tongue. 

Why is the tongue important? 

1: Tasting

The tongue is best known for providing a sense of taste. Humans can sense five basic types of tastes:

  • Sweet
  • Salty
  • Bitter
  • Sour
  • Umami 

Your sense of taste helps your brain decide whether what you are eating actually has nutritional value or not. For example, very bitter or sour tastes can be a sign a food has gone bad and should not be eaten. On the other hand, tastes that are salty or sweet signal that those foods have high caloric content. 

2: Chewing

Scientifically known as mastication, chewing is the act of breaking down food with saliva. The tongue plays a pivotal role when chewing food, as it helps ensure food particles and saliva are mixed properly. When food is properly chewed, the body has better access to its nutrients. Well-chewed food is also easier to swallow and digest.

3: Swallowing

Once food is thoroughly chewed and mixed with saliva, it forms a ball called a bolus. The tongue is what pushes the bolus towards the back of the mouth to the esophagus, where it travels down to the stomach for digestion. 

4: Speech and Sound Formation

Just like your teeth, your tongue plays an extremely important role in speaking and sound-making. When you speak, air flows up from your lungs and vibrates your vocal cords. As the vibrates through your mouth, it can make different sounds depending on how the tongue, teeth, and lips are shaped. For example, the tongue is vital for making “T”, “D,” and “L” sounds.

Keeping Your Tongue Healthy in Peoria, Arizona

We hope this article provides you with a deeper understanding of the function of the tongue. The tongue plays an essential role in the process of eating and allows us to communicate with each other. To keep your tongue working well, brush it regularly with a soft toothbrush, keep it well hydrated by drinking lots of water, and visit the dentist every six months for a dental cleaning to ensure it stays healthy. 

If it’s been a while since your last dental cleaning, call Sunrise Dental today at 623-487-4870 to schedule an appointment. 

Photo by Kampus Production on Pexels.com