The tongue, a fleshy and agile organ in the oral cavity, is a remarkable biological wonder. With the complex anatomy of the tongue and unique properties, it performs various extraordinary functions, making it one of the most versatile organs in the human body. The tongue’s anatomy consists of an intricate network of intrinsic and extrinsic muscles, intricate lingual arteries, and a wide range of sensory receptors, including taste buds, thermal receptors, and mechanoreceptors. These features enable the tongue to perform many exceptional functions contributing to our overall health and well-being.
One of the most notable functions of the tongue is its role in gustation or taste perception. The tongue is covered with tiny papillae that house taste buds capable of detecting various flavors, from sweet and salty to bitter and sour. In addition to its taste buds, the tongue contains thermal receptors that detect temperature and mechanoreceptors that sense texture.
Beyond its sensory functions. The tongue plays a vital role in speech production. It produces complex sounds with the lips, teeth, and palate. It also forms words. The tongue is essential in the initial stages of digestion. It helps to mix food with saliva. It forms the food into a bolus. The bolus can be safely swallowed.
In this article, we shall delve into the various parts of the tongue and their respective functions, providing a comprehensive understanding of this vital organ.
Table of Contents
Parts of a Tongue Diagram
Parts of a Tongue
- Apex or tip
- The underside or Ventral Surface
- Circumvallate Papillae
- Foliate Papillae
- Filiform Papillae
- Fungiform Papillae
- Taste Buds
- Lingual Frenulum
- Hypoglossal Nerve
- Lingual Artery and Vein
- Salivary Glands
- Sublingual Gland
- Submandibular Gland
- Lingual Tonsils
Muscles of Tongue
- Intrinsic muscles
- Superior Longitudinal
- Inferior Longitudinal
- Extrinsic muscles
Tongue Anatomy: Parts & Functions
Apex or Tip
We utilize the tip of the tongue, or the apex, to lick our lips, consume ice cream, and produce some speech sounds. It also has the largest density of taste buds, making it the most sensitive portion of the tongue.
Even the tiniest changes in flavour, such as those between various salts or sugars, may be tasted by the tip of the tongue. The taste buds are tiny bumps on the tongue’s surface, known as papillae. The tongue’s papillae near the tip are the tiniest and most densely packed, making it the ideal-tasting instrument.
The tongue’s body is extremely muscular. It is in charge of several crucial operations. These activities include swallowing and chewing food. The tongue also moulds spoken sounds. It also aids in maintaining oral hygiene.
The complex muscles that make up the tongue’s body cooperate to produce a variety of actions, including contraction, relaxation, and elongation.
With its incredible biting and chewing power, the tongue surprisingly ranks among the body’s strongest muscles compared to its size, exerting a force of up to 0.25 Newtons.
The tongue’s root is an essential but sometimes disregarded component of this intricate muscle. It holds the tongue firmly in position and aids in stabilizing it when speaking and swallowing.
Many important structures, such as the lingual tonsils, contribute to the immune system and defend the body against infections. They are also located at the root of the tongue.
The location of multiple cranial nerves connected to important bodily processes, including taste, touch, and motor control, is also the root of the tongue.
The part of the tongue that faces the roof of the mouth is called the dorsum. The tongue has a special feel due to the papillae, which are little bumps that cover it.
On the dorsum of the tongue, there are four different kinds of papillae, each with a special structure and use.
These include the filiform and fungiform papillae, which recognize sweet and sour tastes. The circumvallate and foliate papillae are largely used for detecting bitter tastes, whereas these are responsible for sensing texture and warmth.
The dorsum of the tongue, which is essential for forming sounds and vowels, is also a key component of speech production.
The underside or Ventral Surface
The ventral surface, often known as the bottom of the tongue, is a fascinating region crucial to maintaining good dental health. It also has a dense network of neurons and blood arteries that enable us to detect fundamental flavours. However, the sublingual glands, which create saliva, are also located there.
The smallest of the three salivary glands, these organs produce a thin, slick secretion that helps lubricate and moisten the mouth. Additionally, they digest carbs and balance acids that might harm our teeth.
Interestingly, the ventral surface of the tongue can serve as a reliable location for medical diagnostics and is crucial for maintaining our dental health.
The mucous membrane of the tongue comprises tiny bumps known as papillae, which play a crucial role in our perception of taste and texture. There are four types of papillae, namely circumvallate, foliate, filiform, and fungiform, each with its distinct structure and function.
The circumvallate papillae, the biggest papillae located at the back of the tongue, are protected by a spherical trench lined with mucus-secreting cells. This mucus guards against stomach acids, safeguarding the papillae from harm.
The foliate papillae, present on the sides of the tongue, are different in form and purpose. These ridges or folds contain specialized crypt cells that support the immune response of the tongue.
These crypts’ lymphoid tissue produces immune cells that guard the tongue against infections and other dangers.
The filiform papillae, which are the most abundant, sense temperature and texture. They are covered with keratinized epithelial cells that protect against abrasion and injury during chewing and swallowing.
The tongue’s surface’s fungiform papillae pick up the tastes of umami and sweetness. Taste buds are specialized cells capable of detecting even the tiniest quantities of sweet and umami components in food that exist within these papillae.
Sensory nerve fibres that carry messages to the brain allow us to sense the flavour of food by surrounding these taste buds.
Nature gave us taste buds as a method to use our tongues to perceive the world. These tiny sensory organs can detect odours ranging from sugar’s sweetness to coffee’s harshness.
The taste buds are located in papillae, tiny bumps on the tongue’s surface that can vary in size and form depending on their position. Specific tastes are detected by specialized cells called taste receptor cells.
Interestingly, taste buds are not merely found on the tongue. Other areas of the mouth and throat also contain them. We can taste food because of these little structures. They are essential for identifying poisons and keeping us from ingesting dangerous chemicals.
A little tissue fold that joins the tongue to the floor of the mouth is called the lingual frenulum, sometimes referred to as the tongue tie. The stability and mobility of the tongue during speaking and swallowing depend heavily on this structure.
Sometimes the frenulum might be overly short or tight, making it difficult to perform certain activities. Recent studies have revealed that the frenulum could be connected to other physiological processes, including breathing and sleeping. According to certain research, a tight frenulum may aggravate snoring and sleep apnea.
These muscles are responsible for some of the most intricate movements in the human body. These four small muscles within the tongue work together to shape and move this organ.
The superior longitudinal muscle, which runs along the top of the tongue, raises and lowers the tongue’s tip. Additionally, this muscle produces certain spoken sounds, such as the “L” sound in “love.”
Interestingly, because their professions require more exact control over the tongue, this muscle is larger and healthier in musicians and vocalists.
The inferior longitudinal muscle, found near the base of the tongue, is in charge of bringing the tongue’s tip forward and downward. This muscle helps create vocal sounds like the “R” sound in “red.”
It’s interesting to note that the size and power of this muscle can differ across people, altering how well they can pronounce particular speech sounds.
The tongue may be lengthened and narrowed thanks to the transverse muscle, a horizontal muscle that runs across it. Speech sounds made by this muscle include the “sh” sound in the word “shoe.”
Amazingly, some individuals have a second transverse muscle from birth, which increases their control over the size and movement of their tongue.
The tongue is flattened and made wider by the vertical muscle, which runs along the middle of the tongue. As it assists in moving food and fluids to the rear of the mouth, this muscle is essential for swallowing.
It’s interesting to note that some medical problems can impact the size and power of this muscle, making swallowing challenging.
The unmatched power and size of the genioglossus muscle set it apart from all other muscles. The biggest and most powerful tongue muscle is this one. Due to its extraordinary strength, it is capable of incredible feats. It may, for instance, extend from the tongue and exit the mouth before retracting further down the neck.
The genioglossus muscle, on the other hand, may occasionally grow, blocking the airway and leading to a serious medical disorder known as obstructive sleep apnea.
It has a set of fibres that give it an unmatched degree of flexibility when manipulating the tongue. This muscle is a powerhouse that can move the tongue in a dizzying diversity of ways, including retracting, depressing, flattening, and broadening, despite its tiny look.
A unique privilege is that the hypoglossal nerve innervates the hyoglossus muscle. This neuron’s remarkable complexity and density reveal the intricate details of the human body.
The muscle in the styloglossus, which also affects tongue motion and form, has an intriguing embryological beginning. The stapes bone in the ear and the stylohyoid ligament in the neck grow from this muscle derived from the second pharyngeal arch.
Due to its closeness to the auriculotemporal nerve, the styloglossus muscle is also one of the few muscles in the body that may send pain to the ear.
A special biological characteristic exists in the palatoglossus muscle. The muscle may contract independently, apart from other tongue muscles, and works in conjunction with the soft palate to close the nasal cavity during swallowing. It plays a crucial role in preventing food from entering the respiratory system.
The palatoglossus muscle derives from the fourth pharyngeal arch, which is also the structure from which the larynx’s thyroid cartilage develops. Due to these distinctive biological characteristics, the palatoglossus muscle is remarkable in muscular anatomy.
The powerful cranial nerve, the hypoglossal nerve, regulates complex tongue motions. The tongue muscles are innervated by a nerve that emerges from the brainstem and goes via the neck.
We wouldn’t be able to talk, chew our food, or swallow without this nerve. Recent research has suggested that the hypoglossal nerve may also regulate respiration while asleep. The health of the entire body, including the tongue, depends on the proper operation of this nerve.
Lingual Artery and Vein
Two important blood arteries that supply and remove blood from the tongue are the lingual artery and vein. Along with the lingual nerve, these blood veins follow the tongue’s contour.
The external carotid artery splits off into the lingual artery. This one is one of the main arteries that carries blood to the head and neck. On the other hand, the lingual vein empties into the internal jugular vein. This one is one of the main veins that transports blood from the head and neck back to the heart.
Without the lingual artery and vein, the tongue would not receive the nutrition and oxygen it needs to operate correctly.
An essential part of the human body is the tongue. It is essential for digestion, speech, and taste. But for it to work properly, the salivary glands are really important.
Three pairs of glands make up the salivary glands. The parotid, sublingual, and submandibular glands are among them. They make saliva and are found in the oral cavity. A necessary fluid for digesting is saliva. It includes enzymes like lipase, amylase, and protease. In the mouth, these enzymes aid in the breakdown of proteins, lipids, and carbohydrates. They get simpler to digest as they go further down the digestive tract.
Saliva also aids in moistening meals. It is made simpler to swallow by this moistening process. Antimicrobial substances are also present in saliva. These substances work to guard against infections in the
One of the three salivary glands below the tongue is the sublingual gland. Although tiny, the tongue and oral cavity need to operate correctly.
In contrast to the other salivary glands, the sublingual gland creates a distinctive kind of saliva that is thicker and more mucous-like and contains a glycoprotein called mucin.
The mouth cavity is shielded and kept lubricated by mucin. It protects against infections and poisons that could harm the body and enter through the mouth. Additionally, the sublingual gland is home to many mucus-producing cells. These cells support the lubricating and swallowing process.
The second-largest salivary gland is located beneath the mandible. It is situated in the lower jaw, underneath the floor of the mouth. About 70% of the saliva generated by the salivary glands is produced by this gland. It is an essential part of the gastrointestinal system.
The submandibular gland produces mucous and serous saliva, which aid in lubricating the mouth cavity and breaking down lipids and carbohydrates. Additionally, the gland has several ducts that the autonomic nervous system uses to control the amount of saliva expelled into the mouth and how it functions.
At the base of the tongue are the tiny, distinctive lymphoid tissues known as the lingual tonsils. They play a crucial role in the immunological system. These tissues are essential to defend the body from pathogens that can enter through the mouth. They are essential for immunological protection even though they are invisible without specialized equipment.
Small masses of lymphoid tissue, including lymphocytes and macrophages, comprise the lingual tonsils. Together, these immune cells search for and eliminate foreign items that can enter the body through the mouth, such as bacteria and viruses.
The lingual tonsils also aid in swallowing by acting as a barrier between the oral cavity and the pharynx and keeping food and fluids from entering the airways while being swallowed.
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