The tongue is an interesting part of the human body, but many of us don’t ever think about it unless our tongue hurts. We could live without a tongue, but it would be much more difficult to eat and speak without it. Since it is one of our main sense organs, food wouldn’t taste nearly as enjoyable without the tongue. It also can give us interesting clues to some health problems. We have compiled this list of some of the most intriguing tongue facts, and helpful health insights your tongue can provide.
Tongues are muscles, which means they can do amazing things. Some people use them for normal activities like eating and speaking, other exercise them to make them stronger and break records! Here are some incredible Guinness records held by humans and their tongues.
Some people do incredibly strange things and the next two records are examples of this. Please do not ever try them at home!
The rest of the records are safe to try at home. Perhaps you and your friends or family can have competitions to see how you compare to these records. Who knows? You may discover a new skill!
If you want to have some more fun friendly competition using your tongue, try some tongue twisters. Here is a link to some of the most difficult tongue twisters in the English language. Try them out and see what hilarious results come out of your mouth! Whoever can say even one correctly 10 times in a row is the winner!
Your tongue is actually a group of muscles that work without the support of your skeleton. (No other muscle in the human body can do this!) That makes them incredibly flexible, which allows you to form sounds, whistle, move food around your mouth, swallow, and you can even use it to clean your teeth after eating.
Not only can you stick your tongue out, retract it to the back of your mouth, and move it side to side, but you can also completely change its shape! Whenever you roll your tongue, tuck it back, curl it under, or form it into a point you are changing its shape.
Some people can use their tongues to create more shapes than others. Rolling your tongue into a tube shape is one of these. Scientists have studied this. They found that it is not genetic, because many times, one twin can while the other cannot. Some people can even do a triple fold!
It is a myth that the tongue is the strongest muscle. Although strong, your jaw muscles create more pressure, and your quads and glutes produce the most force.
However, it is the most sensitive. Have you ever wondered why babies lick and chew on anything they can reach? It’s not just because of teething. Babies also use their extremely sensitive tongues to feel things and gain information about the world around them.
The tongue contains most of our taste buds. Yes, you read that right – most. Taste buds are also in your nose and sinuses, at the back of your throat, on your lips, the inside of your cheeks, roof of your mouth, and even hiding under the tongue! The tongue contains about 4/5 of the taste buds, while approximately one fifth are in these other places. That is why, if you had no tongue, you could still taste a bit.
Speaking of taste buds, the bumps you see on your tongue are not individual taste buds. They are called papillae and each one is home to multiple taste buds. Each taste bud dies and regrows a few times a month!
Breaking it down even further, each taste bud has around 50 – 150 receptor cells that help you discern different flavors. Each receptor can only sense one type of taste: sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and savory (umami).
Taste buds need a bit of help though. Without saliva to begin dissolving food by making it wet, your taste buds won’t be able to work. Saliva also makes it easier to chew and swallow and contains enzymes that start breaking down food so your body can use it.
Unfortunately, as you age you lose taste buds, which means food tastes blander. Most people are born with around 10,000, and the average elderly person may have only 5,000.
Each person’s tongue print is as unique as their fingerprints. Imagine a future in which we use fingerprints, retinal (eye) scans, and tongue scans to confirm our identities. Just picture that!
If your tongue is healthy, it will be pink and covered with the tiny bumps you are used to seeing. Interestingly, the color of your tongue says a lot about your health. If it is any color other than pink, or if you have pain, swelling, or a change in appearance, that is a sign that it’s time to pay attention to your body and consult a dentist or doctor if it doesn’t go away in a few days. Normally, it will be something minor that is not a big deal but every once in a while, it may be a symptom of a more serious health concern.
As we all know by now, if you suddenly can’t taste or smell things like you normally can it may be a symptom of Covid, but it can also indicate other health problems. Any time you notice something that changes abruptly in your body, it is a good idea to consult your doctor.
White spots usually indicate a yeast infection called oral thrush which is normally simple to cure. White spots can also be due to leukoplakia which is often seen in smokers and may be a precursor to cancer.
Lacy white lines and spots are caused by oral lichen planus which is a chronic condition that has many causes.
A red tongue can be caused by allergies. If it is bright red you could have a vitamin B-12 or folic acid deficiency.
If your tongue is bright red and you also have a high fever, you may have scarlet fever or Kawasaki disease. Both scarlet fever and Kawasaki disease are normally seen in children and do need to be treated by a doctor right away.
A tongue that is hairy (or furry) and black, brown, or white is usually due to poor oral hygiene. This occurs because the papillae (bumps) on your tongue can become overgrown and harbor bacteria. A black hairy tongue can also be found in people with diabetes, taking antibiotics, or receiving chemotherapy.
A smooth tongue can indicate an iron, folic acid, or B vitamin deficiency. It may also be caused by infections, celiac disease, or taking some medications.
Painful bumps on your tongue can be due to a virus or injury. Biting or burning your tongue can cause a painful bump that takes time to heal.
Canker sores are another common cause of painful bumps on your tongue or in your mouth and you can read more about them here.
Oral cancer is a far rarer cause of bumps on the tongue and in the mouth. A bump caused by oral cancer may not hurt at first, but any bump that lasts more than two weeks should be evaluated by your doctor or dentist.
A swollen tongue is called macroglossia and can indicate other underlying health problems. If you have indentations on the side of your tongue from your teeth, your tongue is probably swollen. It may be caused by hypothyroidism, an infection, allergies, inflammatory diseases, and many other conditions.
An oversized tongue may also cause you to suffer from sleep apnea. Tongues are a group of muscles but also contain a lot of fat which means that obese individuals often have a larger tongue, causing them to have a higher risk of suffering from sleep apnea. Unfortunately, sleep apnea affects much more than just your sleep. It can also have many different causes but the underlying causes can often be treated.
Bad breath – You may not realize that one of the major causes of bad breath is the tongue! When you brush your teeth, be sure to brush your tongue to remove all the bad-smelling, harmful bacteria.
Good oral hygiene is necessary to keep your mouth and tongue healthy. Regular brushing, flossing, and dental cleanings will prevent a buildup of bacteria and plaque that cause disease and bad breath.
A healthy tongue is easy to ignore but, as anyone who has ever had a canker sore knows, an unhealthy tongue makes everyday activities like eating and speaking a painful chore. We hope your tongue stays healthy so you can continue tasting delicious foods, speaking and laughing with friends, and even participating in a tongue curling or tongue twister contest!
At Jungle Roots Children’s Dentistry & Orthodontics, we strive to provide the highest comprehensive pediatric and orthodontic dental care in a unique, fun-filled environment staffed by a team of caring, energetic professionals. We believe the establishment of a “dental home” at an early age is the key to a lifetime of positive visits to the dentist.