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Did you know..

..the tongue is the strongest muscle in the human body?

People's mouths differ in size, shape and appearance. The first part of the mouth we are most likely to notice are the lips. When a person smiles, we see teeth, and when a person talks, we also see the tongue. The mouth helps us form words when we speak, and initiates the digestion of food.

The palate is the tissue which separates the nasal and oral cavities. You can feel this at the top of your mouth. At the front, where it is more bony, is the hard palate. The soft palate is situated more towards the back of the mouth.

Hard palate: This consists of a bony, concave plate, towards the front of which our upper teeth are embedded.

Soft palate: This is the softer tissue located at the back, towards the throat. When we eat and swallow food, the muscles of the palate bring it together with the throat.

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Uvula: This is the part of the soft palate that hangs over the back of the tongue. It helps to seal off the nasal cavity.

Tonsils: Part of the lymphatic system, the tonsils are small oval collections of lymphoid tissue, situated at the back of the tongue.

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Tongue: This part of the mouth is composed mainly of voluntary muscle. It is attached by many other muscles which also help to manoeuvre food for easier chewing and swallowing. The muscles of the tongue allow it to alter its shape during speech and swallowing. Covering the surface of the tongue are thousands of taste buds.

Taste buds: The receptors for taste are located in the taste buds. Taste buds occur in groups at the base of little projections on the tongue that give the tongue its rough texture. Taste buds are oval-shaped capsules, and inside them we find up to twenty receptor cells, responsible for taste. Each receptor cell has a hair like projection that projects through a small opening in the capsule.

On the side of the tongue, it is possible to distinguish sour and salty tastes. On the tip we taste sweet, and at the back, we taste bitter flavours.

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Teeth: The only visible part of the skeletal system, teeth play perhaps the most important role in eating food. An average adult has thirty-two teeth. Twenty of these are molars, which are the flat, round teeth along the side of the jaw. These are the teeth dedicated to chewing and grinding food. During childhood we lose a number of our baby teeth, and these are replaced with permanent adult teeth.

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So, what is the main function of the mouth?

Our mouths make it possible for us to speak in various verbal languages, and are also the first part of the body to start the digestion of food. Our mouths grant us the pleasure of tasting many different foods and flavours through the thousands of taste buds and taste receptor cells on the tongue, and also show others we are happy when we smile or laugh. Regularly brushing your teeth will ensure teeth stay clean and healthy.

When food enters the mouth and comes into contact with the tongue, taste receptors found in the taste buds are stimulated by the various substances in the food. These taste receptor cells send an impulse to the brain and hence, food is tasted. Muscles in the tongue aid in the chewing of food by moving it around, and finally push it towards the back of the mouth to be swallowed. Food then passes the uvula, and then goes onto the oesophagus.

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