Your mouth — also known as the oral cavity — shapes the appearance of your face and helps you eat, speak and breathe. It takes many parts working together to handle so many important jobs.
Get to know the functions of the different parts of your mouth, and you’ll gain a greater appreciation for the importance of great oral health.
Smiling is one of your mouth’s key functions. During stressful times, smiling can help you reduce the effects of that stress on your body.
Most adults develop 32 permanent teeth. They are embedded in the upper and lower jaws and kept in place by the roots. Your teeth tear and chew your food, give your face its shape by supporting your cheeks and lips, and play a major role in speech.
The upper (maxilla) and lower (mandible) jaws help support your teeth and assist in chewing and speaking. The alignment of your jaws also helps give your face its shape.
Gums are soft pink tissues that cover and protect the alveolar bone, the part of the jawbone that supports your teeth. Gum health is important because gum disease can lead to loss of teeth and bone support.
Lips and cheeks
Lips and cheeks work together to assist with speech and making expressions. They also keep food and saliva in your mouth when you chew.
This powerful muscle is anchored to the floor of the mouth. The tongue is a key component in chewing and swallowing food. Adjusting the shape and position of your tongue helps you form certain words. In addition, your tongue helps clean food from your teeth.
Frenums — lingual and labial
The lingual frenum is a flap of tissue that connects the tongue to the floor of the mouth, allowing the tongue to move about and help you speak. The labial frenum connects the upper lip to the gums between the two central incisors.
The hard and soft palates make up the roof of the mouth, with the hard palate at the front and the soft palate at the back. They play a role in speech and separate the mouth from the nasal cavity, allowing food and air to go through different passages.
This small flap of tissue hangs at the back of the soft palate. The uvula helps the soft palate keep food and drink from entering the nasal cavity. It is also believed that the uvula assists with speech and has small saliva-producing glands that help keep your mouth and throat moist.
Temporomandibular joints (TMJ)
The temporomandibular joints are located on both sides of your head. They’re unique in your body because they are two joints that function as one unit connected by the lower jawbone. They must work together to open and close your mouth and move your lower jaw forward and from side to side. In addition, they help you chew, speak and swallow.
The oral mucosa is the protective soft tissue lining the covers your gums and everything else in your mouth, except your teeth. Working with the salivary glands, the oral mucosa is vital to your health because it keeps your mouth moist and clear of food and other debris, and helps you speak, chew and swallow. It also defends your body from germs that enter your mouth.
There are six major salivary glands and hundreds of very tiny minor salivary glands in your mouth that produce saliva to break down food, making it easier to swallow. Saliva also moistens your mouth for speaking and chewing, in addition to washing bacteria from your teeth and gums to help prevent cavities and gum disease.
Keep the many parts of your mouth healthy with a consistent oral health routine and regular dental visits so you can maintain a healthy smile, good nutrition and clear speech.