Everyone knows the basic structures of the mouth including your teeth and gums. But there is more to your mouth than just those two anatomical parts. This means
maintaining good oral hygiene goes beyond just your teeth and gums. In addition to your teeth and gums, your mouth is made up oral mucosa, the upper (maxilla) and lower (mandibular) jaw, the tongue, salivary glands, the uvula, and the frenulum. All of these structures play an important role when it comes to good oral health and are regularly examined by your dentist when you receive dental care.
Anatomical Structures of the Mouth
- Oral Mucosa. When you look in your mouth everything that is not a tooth is the oral mucosa. The oral mucosa is a protective lining and includes the gum tissues. This lining is very similar to the lining in your nostrils and inner ears. The oral mucosa plays a very large and essential role in maintaining your oral health. It is also important in maintenance of your overall health by defending against germs and other irritants that come into your mouth. The oral mucosa has a tough component called keratin. Keratin (also found in fingernails and hair) helps keep the oral mucosa protected from injury.
-Gums or gingival tissue. Your gums are the pink, attached, colored tissue that envelops and supports your teeth. Also covered by oral mucosa, gums play a critical role in your oral health. Healthy gums are firm, cover the entire root of the tooth, and do not bleed when brushed, flossed, or probed. Diseased gum tissue, or Periodontal disease can ultimately progress to tooth loss. This makes it essential to take care of your gums by flossing daily and brushing regularly.
-Upper (Maxilla) and Lower (Mandible) Jaws. Your jaws are an essential structure of the mouth and face. The jaws give your face its shape and are the structures holding your teeth. They are needed for chewing and speech. The Upper jaw or Maxilla is made up of two bones fused together and then to the rest of the skull. The lower jawbone (mandible) is separate from the rest of the skull which allows it to move up and down, and side to side in your jaw joint (TMJ) when you speak and chew.
-The Tongue. This is an extremely strong muscle covered in specialized mucosal tissue that also includes the taste buds. The tongue is unique in that it truly plays a dual role in our health. The tongue plays an integral role in the ability to speak. It does this by allowing people to shape the sounds that come from your mouth. It’s other role is being a part of the body’s digestive system. The tongue is responsible for moving food over to your teeth and following chewing, the tongue moves to the back of the throat so it can force it down to continue on its path thru swallowing. In infants the tongue and jaw work as one to allow the infant to breastfeed.
-Salivary Glands. There are three different major salivary glands in your mouth and neck. These are the parotid, sub mandibular, and the sub lingual glands. There are also smaller, or minor salivary glands in your hard palate, soft palate, and inner lip. These glands are responsible for producing saliva. Saliva is critical to maintaining good oral health. It functions in the following ways:
1) Breakdown of food. Saliva contains special enzymes that help break down food. This makes it easier for you to digest your food.
2)Lubrication. Saliva aides in swallowing food by acting as a carrier of foods out of the mouth and into the throat. Saliva also keeps gums and teeth from drying out. This constant lubrication makes it more difficult for bacteria to stick and stay, and helps keep teeth and gums clean.
3) Protection of teeth and gums. Saliva is able to offer protection of teeth and gums by rinsing away food and bacteria. It is also able to neutralize acids or acidic foods that can wear down your teeth causing tooth cavities.
-The Uvula. The uvula is the small flap of tissue which hangs down at the back of your throat. The uvula is made up of muscle fibers as well as connective and glandular tissues. The uvula is covered by oral mucosa. The uvula’s functions are not fully understood as of yet. However, it seems to play some role in speech and in keeping the mouth and throat moist.
-The Frenulum Linguae. The frenulum or frenum, is an attachment of oral mucosa that connects and pulls two areas together. There is one major frenum attachment above your two front teeth connecting your lip to the adjacent gums, another major one is under the tongue attaching it to the floor of the mouth. There can be any number of minor frenum attachments from lip to gum or cheek to gum. Children can be born with a frenulum that is too short, or not elastic enough, keeping the tongue almost tied down. This can affect speech as the tongue is not able to protrude as far as necessary. A short frenum can also affect swallowing and feeding in babies.
Take notice the next time you are brushing your teeth, spend a minute looking at the parts of the mouth that lie farther inside the oral cavity. Knowing what these structures do and what they look like can help you to maintain optimal oral health, and notice changes that can occur. Your self awareness can help you point changes out to your dentist, and find out why they have occurred. As always, see your dentist regularly and have an open line of communication to ensure that your mouth is it’s healthiest!