Facts About the Tongue You Might Not Know

Updated on December 6, 2018
Pamela99 profile image

I spent 22 years in the nursing profession, and I enjoy writing about medical issues. I'm also interested in history, genealogy, and travel.

Healthy Tongue

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Unique Anatomy of the Tongue

Every tongue is very unique, not unlike fingerprints. Currently there are researchers working on reliable ways to use the tongue as a biometric authentication to identify an individual. It is amazing!

The tongue has 2,000 to 10,000 taste buds. Contrary to current belief there are no places on the tongue where taste buds are specific to just sweets, salt or tart flavors. Taste buds exist in the epiglottis and the back of the throat also. The tongue has small, pinkish-white bumps, called papillae, that are actually very fine hairlike projections. The papillae can be seen on the above picture.

On average the taste buds die off and are then replaced every 10 to 14 days.There are some people with more than 10,000 taste buds, and they are known as supertasters. Children and infants have more taste buds than adults, with some taste buds even in their cheeks and lips. This may explain why they can be so picky about food.

The tongue is very flexible, and it has eight intertwining muscles that create this flexibility. The tongue muscles are the only muscles in the body that are totally independent of the skeleton.

The tongue is separated by a length of vertical fibrous tissue. The muscles in the tongue enable shaping the tongue to facilitate eating, swallowing and talking. The tongue muscles never get tired.

Average Length of the Tongue

The average tongue for an adult male is 3.3 inches long, and a female tongue averages 3.1 inches. However, Nick Stoeberl has a tongue of approximately 3.9 inches, and he is in the Guiness Book of World Records. Enjoy the short video below if you want to see the longest tongue on record.

World’s Longest Tongue: US Man Beats Record

Signs of an Unhealthy Tongue

The healthy tongue is a pink shade, but if it is smoother than a normal tongue you may have a deficiency of nutrients, such as vitamin B12, iron or folic acid. A very red tongue may indicate a sore and/or fever.

If the tongue has white patches, which may also be on the inside of the mouth, that typically means you have thrush. Thrush (a fungal infection) is easily treated, but you need a prescription from your doctor.

The University of Pennsylvania completed of study of people with obstructive sleep apnea, and they found obese individuals had a larger tongue, which had more fat.

A yellow tongue usually indicates some type of stomach problem. You may have pain or a burning sensation on you tongue, and spicy or acidic food is typically the cause.

Let the Tongue Speak What the Heart Thinks.

--Davy Crockett

What Your Tongue Says About Your Health

Unhealthy Tongue

Source

Oral Cancers

Cancers can also affect the tongue and 90% are squamous cell carcinomas. The cancer may by a primary lesion or it may metastasise from the throat, nasal cavity or another anatomic structure. Approximately 75% of the cancers are due to modifiable behaviors, such as excessive alcohol consumption or some type of tobacco use.

The growth on the side of the tongue in the above picture is cancer.

Geographic Tongue

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Geographic Tongue

This condition gives the tongue a geographic appear with lesions or patches, These lesions may heal in one area of the tongue and move to another area. This is a benign condition, which is also called benign migratory glossitis. There may be discomfort with an increases sensitivity to particular food flavors, such as salt, spices or even sweets.

These symptoms may include:

  • The size and and shape of the lesions frequently change location
  • Irregularly shaped lesions or patches the are red, smooth and irregularly shaped
  • These patches may be located on the sides or top of the tongue
  • Pain, burning sensation in some cases related to eating acidic or spicy food
  • People may not have any symptoms
  • The tongue may have a light colored or white appearance along the borders

If your symptoms do not resolve in ten days in is time to see your doctor or dentist. The cause of this condition may be genetic as it tends to run in families. This condition may last for a year.

There are over-the-counter treatments, such an anti-inflammatories, zinc or various mouth rinses. The doctor may prescribe a corticosteroid ointment applied directly on the tongue.

Unfortunately, some people with this disorder may have fissured tongue, and the appearance of deeper grooves or fissures may appear on the tongue’s surface.

Give Thy Thoughts No Tongue

--William Shakespeare

What About Other Mammals?

Dogs and cats are mammals that use their tongue in a number of ways. One way is to clean their fur or body. Their tongue tends to have a rough texture, which aids them in removing parasites and oils as well.

A dog’s tongue acts as a heat regulator. You will see a dog’s tongue hanging out of his or her mouth. The reason is the moisture on the tongue helps to cool the blood flow.

Fish, reptiles, birds and amphibians all have tongues, but alligators, crocodiles and gharials do not have tongues. Of course, that last group sure have plenty of teeth.

Summary

The tongue's many unique features are interesting. It is good to be aware of the possible problems that may occur, so take a look at it when you brush your teeth. Dentist encourage people to brush their tongue also to get rid of any bacteria, and this should be done twice daily.

Questions & Answers

    © 2018 Pamela Oglesby

    Comments

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    • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Pamela Oglesby 

      9 months ago from Sunny Florida

      Patricia, I was acutally surprised at what I learned writing this article. I appreciate your comments. Angels are coming to your also.

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 

      9 months ago from sunny Florida

      Lots here I didn't know. We take it for granted but it really does play an important part in our lives. Marking this to refer to later. Once again, Angels are on the way this evening.ps

    • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Pamela Oglesby 

      9 months ago from Sunny Florida

      Rachel, I really learned a lot about the tongue when I did research for this article. I apprerciate your comments, and I am glad you found out some new things about the tongue.

      I wish you a blessed Thanksgiving as well.

    • Rachel L Alba profile image

      Rachel L Alba 

      9 months ago from Every Day Cooking and Baking

      Hi Pamela, I never thought so much about the tongue before. Very interesting, though. I never knew that children and infants have more taste buds and that taste buds die and get replaced. Now if my or someone in my family has a different color on their tongue I can refer to your hub. Thanks for sharing this information.

      Have a blessed Thanksgiving.

    • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Pamela Oglesby 

      11 months ago from Sunny Florida

      Hi Aldene, Thank you for your comments.

    • AMFredenburg profile image

      Aldene Fredenburg 

      11 months ago from Southwestern New Hampshire

      Valuable information; thanks!

    • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Pamela Oglesby 

      11 months ago from Sunny Florida

      Hi Linda, Thank you so much for your comments.

    • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Pamela Oglesby 

      11 months ago from Sunny Florida

      Mykola, You may certainly be right about that. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 

      11 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Your article contains some very interesting facts about the tongue, Pamela. Thanks for sharing them.

    • profile image

      Mykola 

      11 months ago

      Hi, Pamela! Useful article. I think the state of the tongue is connected with that of our eyes in dermining of our disease. Yours.

    • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Pamela Oglesby 

      11 months ago from Sunny Florida

      Hi Shauna, I think a lot of people just weren't taught as children, Yet I would imagine a dentist would tell a patient that brushing the tongue was important.

      Thanks for your comments.

    • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Pamela Oglesby 

      11 months ago from Sunny Florida

      After I read a couple of interesting facts, and I decided the tongue would make a unique topic. I imagine your tongue to just fine.

      Thanks Bill.

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 

      11 months ago from Central Florida

      I always brush my tongue when I brush my teeth. When my ex-husband saw me doing that, he asked me what I was doing and why. Self-explanatory, isn't it? He started brushing his tongue after seeing me do it. How can someone go their entire life without brushing their tongue? Gross!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      11 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Okay, that was strangely fascinating! So many things I did not know. Now you have me looking at my tongue in a mirror. lol

    • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Pamela Oglesby 

      11 months ago from Sunny Florida

      RTalloni, I'm glad you found this information useful, and I appreciate your comments.

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 

      11 months ago from the short journey

      Hmmm, we were taught to keep it in as children but this proves it's definitely a good idea to stick it out once in a while! Thanks for the useful information.

    • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Pamela Oglesby 

      11 months ago from Sunny Florida

      Louise, I am glad you found this article interesting.

      Thanks so much for your comments/

    • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Pamela Oglesby 

      11 months ago from Sunny Florida

      Flourish, i was pretty surprised about some of the things I learned when researching the facts. I imagine you will see a healthy tongue in the mirror!

      I appreciate your comments.

    • Coffeequeeen profile image

      Louise Powles 

      11 months ago from Norfolk, England

      The tongue is indeed an amazing thing. This was very interesting to read, thankyou.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 

      11 months ago from USA

      Fascinating facts. Now I’m going to look in the mirror and hope I don’t see some of the unhealthy signs.

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