You chew food, whisper secrets, laugh at jokes, talk with friends, kiss your loved ones, and smile when you’re happy. But these wonderful, everyday things would be impossible without your mouth.
Our lips, teeth, and tongue work together constantly so we can perform these seemingly simple tasks. But how do they accomplish this? Read on to see how your mouth does its extraordinary job.
The Gatekeeper: Lips
When you think about your mouth, you tend to forget how important lips are. Lips seal your mouth airtight. Without that seal, you wouldn’t be able to keep food in your mouth in order to chew, taste, and swallow it.
The Demolition Experts: Teeth
When you hear “teeth,” one of the first things that comes to mind is “chew”—and for good reason. Our teeth are an essential component of our digestive system.
While some people choose to be vegan or vegetarian, scientists categorize humans as omnivores. Because we eat both meat and plants, we need the faculties to chew both. That’s where your different teeth come in. You have four main types:
- Incisor: located at the front of the mouth. These are usually the first teeth to appear in children’s mouths.
- Canine: sharper, pointed teeth located in the “corner” of your mouth.
- Premolar: also referred to as a bicuspid because each has two cusps (elevated features on a tooth), between canines and molars.
- Molar: can contain several cusps. They are located in the back of your mouth, toward the retromolar trigone (the tissue that joins your upper and lower jaws).
Incisors and canines cut and tear through meat so you can swallow it. Premolars and molars grind up vegetables. As they mash up these plants, they do more than help you swallow; they allow you get necessary nutrients.
Most plants have a cellulose wall that protects them. Few animals, including humans, can digest plant cellulose, so they need to break down that wall before swallowing. As you chew, you do more than make your food a manageable bite; you uncover the plant’s nutrients and allow your digestive enzymes to use them.
The Analyst: Tongue
Have you ever wondered why you can move your tongue so easily? Some people can flip and fold their tongue in all sorts of motions. Your tongue is made up of tiny skeletal muscle fibers, which means you can voluntarily control its movement. These muscles anchor your tongue into your mouth, but they also allow you to manipulate it.
Like your teeth, your tongue plays a part in the digestive process. First, it pushes food between your teeth so they can chew. It also allows you to taste your food. Holidays just wouldn’t be the same without that important feature. You’ll notice that your tongue is covered by small bumps. You may have heard that these are taste buds, but that’s not strictly true. These small bumps are called papillae. They sometimes contain taste buds, but papillae primarily exist to create friction between your tongue and food.
That friction helps stimulate taste buds’ gustatory receptor cells. These receptors sense food’s chemical makeup and send an impulse to the cerebral cortex. Then, the brain interprets that into taste (salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and umami).
Your lips, teeth, and tongue play roles in the digestive process, but they help you in another important way as well: speech. Your mouth allows you to give a boardroom presentation, gossip with friends, or whisper sweet nothings into your loved one’s ear.
Your tongue does the heavy lifting when it comes to speech. We mentioned before that your tongue’s skeletal muscle fibers help it move, which helps in the digestive process. That flexibility also allows it to change positions to create different sounds. For most people, this is an unconscious process, but you can see how much your tongue works by reciting the vowel sounds: A, E, I, O, U.
The tongue can work alone to make these sounds, but if you want to form most words, you’ll need consonants—and that means you need your teeth and lips.
For example, you can make an “A” sound, but you cannot say “am” without a little help from your lips. Go ahead, try. You can say “E,” but you couldn’t say “teeth” without your teeth participating.
We depend on all three to help us communicate and eat. In many ways, our survival depends on their working together—and that means that we need to take care of them.
Care for Your Mouth
You know you should brush and floss your teeth, but don’t neglect your tongue and lips. When you brush, give your tongue a good cleaning as well. This will freshen your breath and keep your entire mouth sparkling. Your lips lose moisture quickly, so protect them before you walk out the door with lip balm.
If you have questions about the best ways to take care of your lips, teeth, and tongue, contact a dentist in your area.