The How your Tongue works.


How does your tongue work?

Despite the myth, the tongue is not really the strongest muscle in the body. But it is a fully functioning muscle that is vital to human growth as well as human enjoyment. Although small, the tongue is responsible for many different bodily functions. The tongue provides a path for food to travel through the digestive system, it has taste buds so that we can enjoy the flavor of that food, and the tongue is largely responsible for speech, among other things. But how does the tongue work?

The tongue is different from other organs, such as the heart, or the muscles involved in the rest of the digestive process in that a person may control their tongue. They can choose to move it, wiggle it and of course, stick it out! It is this kind of mobility that allows for speech. The entire tongue has muscles weaving through it that hold it down to surrounding bones, which opens up the floor cavity of the mouth. This entire amazing skeletal muscle is covered in a mucous membrane that protects it from bacteria and other organisms that could damage it. The tongue is considered an accessory digestive organ. It works with the cheeks to keep food between the two sets of teeth so that it may be properly chewed. Along with this it’s also a peripheral sense organ. This not only allows for you to experience taste but also allows for the tongue to experience pain, heat, and pressure.

Fat is combined with the skeletal muscle of the tongue and it is this that allows for the tongue to bend and twist into many different shapes and allows it to move in just about any direction. The muscle of the tongue is comprised of two different identical halves that are divided by a median septum. Both of these halves are made up of two different types of muscles: extrinsic and intrinsic muscles. The extrinsic muscles come from different parts of the body and attach to the tongue. The names of these muscles all end in “glossus,” which means “tongue.” The genioglossus muscle is responsible for the tongue’s downward movement and also allows it to be directed out of the mouth. The palatoglossus muscle lets the back of the tongue to lift up and the hyoglossus muscle lowers the sides of the tongue.

It is these extrinsic muscles that keep the tongue firmly in place, despite how flexible it is. These muscles are also connected to the jawbone and the hyoid bone. The hyoid bone is shaped like a “U” and is suspended with support of ligaments and muscles. This makes it the only bone in the human body that does not come into contact with any other bone.

The intrinsic muscles can be found inside the tongue. It is these muscles that permit the tongue to move out and in, expand and contract, and change its shape and size. The intrinsic muscles are called the longitudinalis superior, longitudinalis inferior, transverses linguae, and verticalis linguae. These muscles are especially important in the process of swallowing food and for speech. The mucous membrane that covers the entire tongue has two layers and keeps microorganisms and bacteria from entering the muscle of the tongue, as well as other areas of the human body. This membrane also has an epithelial layer that provides the mouth and tongue with moisture, as well softens and moistens food.

The tongue does provide a path for food in the mouth to be taken through the digestive system after it has shaped the food to make it easier to swallow. Although this plays a big part of the tongue’s main functions, it’s more commonly known for allowing us to taste the food we eat. Did you know the small bumps on our tongue are actually not taste buds? They are actually papillae, which provide the friction needed for our mouth to break down food. Although the papillae sometimes have taste buds inside them, the buds are actually in between the small folds separating the papillae. Although taste buds are actually microscopic, they are amazing structures.

Each taste bud is comprised of basal cells and supporting cells that work to keep approximately fifty gustatory receptor cells working. These receptors react to the different food that we eat. When food or substance comes into contact with these cells, the receptors work with neurons to send an electrical impulse to the brain. The brain then translates this electrical signal as a sensation of taste. The primary tastes are: sweet, salty, bitter, sour, savory, and some studies are now showing that fat may in fact be a sixth taste. The gustatory receptors each have a hair that extends from the top center of the cell. This hair is what the receptor will use to intermingle with food and saliva in order to be stimulated. The saliva is a combination of digestive enzymes that work to break down the food so that it may be digested. There are three major glands in the mouth that secrete saliva: the parotid gland, the submandibular glands, and the sublingual glands.

It is the same articulation of the tongue that moves and shapes food that is also largely responsible for speech. The tongue is so important to the art of speaking in fact that it has become another word for “language.” When people refer to having a “mother tongue” or a “silver tongue,” they are referring to the fact that without a tongue, speech would be impossible. Phoneticians, people who study speech, recognize certain areas of speech by the way the tongue is formed in the mouth when pronouncing them. For instant, the hard vowels, such as a hard “a” heard in words such as acorn, are known as high vowels due to the fact that the tongue is high against the roof of the mouth when they are pronounced. The softer vowels such as the soft “a” heard in words such as “father” are known as low vowels because the tongue is now in a much lower position.

Today phoneticians are changing to a system in which there are eight cardinal vowels. This allows them to study vowels and sounds of any language. In this system, there are eight points of the mouth determined by where the tongue is in relation to the front and back of the mouth. Each position is determined and studied by its approximation to the other seven positions.

Because the tongue is so largely responsible for proper speech, a defect in the tongue can obviously impair speech quite significantly. Conditions such as ankyloglossia are sometimes quite common but can be fixed. This condition involves excess mucous in the membrane that folds over the membrane that holds the tongue to the mouth floor. This causes that membrane to be significantly shortened, making the tongue less mobile. The condition is also known as being “tongue-tied.”

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