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The Tongue:  Wild, Wonderful and Weird

Most people can tell you what the tongue is.  It’s a muscle in the mouth and throat that is used to aide in talking, tasting and eating.   Here’s some interesting trivia about your tongue that you may not know.

  • The average tongue is 10 cm in length, as measured from the base of the tongue (in your throat) to the tip. Only the front 2/3 of the tongue is visible to other people.  Most people can stick their tongue out of the mouth by 2-6 cm, but the world record holder can stick his tongue out 10 cm beyond the teeth
  • Most people think the tongue has maps of different taste buds, but in fact your taste buds can taste all types of tastes. Most people further think that there are 4 categories of taste: salty, sweet, sour and bitter; but there is actually a 5th category:  Umami, which is the ability to taste glutamate (as in monosodium glutamate or MSG).
  • Taste buds serve many roles. They make food appetizing so that we crave it.  Bitter and sour can tell us that something is rotten or poisonous.  Salty and sweet indicate that something is nutritious (yes, sugar can be nutritious and serve a purpose in appropriate amounts).  Many people think that the tongue is where the taste buds live, but in fact, taste buds can be found all over the mouth.
  • A dry tongue is a tasteless tongue. Our tongue can only detect taste if it is moistened by our saliva
  • Many people say that the tongue is the strongest muscle or in the body or that it does the most work. The strongest muscles are typically the quads, while the most tireless muscle is the heart (thank goodness).  Also, many people do not know, but the tongue is actually 4 paired sets of muscles.
  • The tongue is the only muscle in the body that works entirely without any support from the skeleton.
  • The size and shape of your tongue can literally, give you away. The tongue is a good indicator for several medical conditions.   A pink tongue indicates health.  A smooth tongue can indicate a vitamin deficiency or anemia.  A black tongue can mean bacterial colonization, diabetes or be that due to medications.   A red tongue can mean you have dry mouth or have an allergy or even an infection.  One of the most common findings is a white  This can mean: fungal infection, immune deficiency or irregularity like an autoimmunity.   Just like the rest of your body, your tongue can get fat.  A large or fatty tongue can be a predictor of sleep apnea.  Any irregular physical appearance should be reported to an oral surgeon or your PCP, so that more serious ailments including oral cancer may be ruled out.

You may never look at your tongue the same way again.