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Surprising Facts About Your Tongue

Boy licking ice cream.

Your tongue allows you to taste and enjoy food or treats–like ice cream!

When most people think about what a dentist does, they immediately think teeth. But today’s dentistry is much broader. Not only are we mindful of the many issues related to oral health, we understand how it affects your overall health and well-being.

That’s why your checkups include an examination of your tongue.

Your tongue is a muscle. It’s anchored in the front of your mouth with a small fold of tissue called the frenulum. In the back, it’s attached to a horseshoe-shaped bone call the hyoid bone.

Unlike other bones with joint articulations, the hyoid bone is only distantly connected to other bones by muscles and ligaments.

This unusual mobility permits your tongue to swallow food and to form words needed for speech.

And let’s not forget another key function of your tongue: taste. Your tongue is covered with pink tissue called mucosa and tiny bumps called papilla. The papilla is home to about 10,000 taste buds. Smoking reduces the number of working taste buds, as does the aging process.

Taste buds have microscopic hairs that send messages to the brain about how something tastes.

Many are surprised to learn that we only have six different tastes: sweet, sour, bitter, salty and two newly discovered tastes called umami (meat, bone broth, seaweed) and fat.

More complex tastes are actually the result of our sense of smell.

Your tongue offers a window into your overall health. Deviations from its normal appearance, or any pain, may indicate other issues.

When you come in for a routine cleaning, cancer is probably the furthest thing on your mind. However, it’s during a dental checkup that head, neck and oral cancers are initially detected.

Any bump or sore on your tongue (or elsewhere in your mouth) that lingers longer than two weeks needs to be looked at. Sores and bumps on your tongue can also be from grinding your teeth or biting your tongue.

As with any disease process, early detection improves treatment options and their success. It’s just one more reason why we recommend regular dental checkups. You can be sure we’ll check your teeth and gums, but we’ll also examine your tongue and other tissues in your mouth. Schedule yours today.

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