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How Your Tongue Helps You Stay Healthy and Tells When You’re Sick

The tongue is bigger than we think, and goes part way down the throat.

The tongue is an important, but unsung part of the body. It works hard for us every day, every time we speak and every time we eat. It also protects us from bacteria and viruses that may enter our mouths.

It is the only part of the body that has three-dimensional muscles. The muscles run from the sides to the middle, from the front to the back, and from the top to the bottom. They are covered with a thick layer of connective tissue, covered with sensitive papillae, and the surface is protected by a mucus membrane.

The organ has a rich blood supply and is a vital part of the immune system. It is attached to several bones including the lower jawbone, the temporal lobes, and the hyoid bone in the throat. The base does not stop at the mouth, but continues part of the way down the throat.

The same set of muscles that anchor the organ also help to keep the hyoid bone suspended, making it the only bone in the body that doesn’t touch another bone. The hyoid bone has the tongue and muscles in the throat attached to it. The muscles coordinate together for movements like swallowing and speaking by using the hyoid bone as a firm saddle structure.

Parrots Can Talk Because Their Tongues Are Limber

Parrots use theirs almost as an extra hand, moving food around while the beak removes husks and shells.

The Tongue Has Many Functions

It works with the throat, teeth and cheeks to form words. (The reason a parrot can talk even though it has a very different mouth structure is that theirs is limber like ours.) When a person has a slight stroke, it may only show in a temporary slurring of speech, because the nerve signals to the muscles have been impaired. It is so necessary to speech that it’s name is substituted for language in many phrases, such as “mother tongue” and “tongue tied”.

Where the muscles work very strongly to chew and swallow food, they must be very dexterous, and also make the more delicate movements to perform the sounds of speech.

The organ is more sensitive than the fingertips for touch. Why? Because the it gathers information about food and drink that we’re about to allow into our bodies. That requires a good sense of touch. While you may think that the gag reflex in the back is the most sensitive, the tip is actually the most sensitive to touch.

It not only feels very small particles that may harm us in our food, but it can tell when a small particle is caught in the teeth, and it is limber enough to clean most particles from the teeth. (This may not seem to be the case, but we only really notice particles that it can’t clear from our teeth; we don’t notice the unconscious work that it does after every meal.)

Of course, the abundant joys that can be derived during intimacy, when the sensitivity is utilized, were discovered long ago – probably before it ever occurred to us to talk or to come in out of the rain by living in caves.

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