On the Tip of Your Tongue: Part 1

Your tongue is one of the most amazing appendages in your body. It allows you to speak, swallow, whistle, and spit; its sensitive surface is studded with thousands of taste receptors. What do you know about yours? You might be surprised to learn that many widely-held beliefs about the tongue are myths and misconceptions.

You may have heard that it’s the strongest muscle in your body. There are two problems with this statement. Firstly, there are muscles in your body that exert much more force (your jaws, for example). Second, it’s not a single muscle – it’s eight. Four are intrinsic muscles – these originate inside the tongue, and are responsible for changing its shape. The other four are extrinsic, beginning in other structures, and allow you to move it in all directions.

Can you curl yours? Tongue curling is often used as a simple example to demonstrate heritable (genetic) characteristics. In reality, it’s not so simple. Some non-rollers can learn the feat, and family studies show that even identical twins may not share the ability. Currently, it’s widely thought that both genetics and environment affect this simple trick.

Gene Simmons of KISS fame is known for this unusually long appendage. In his autobiography, the rocker asserts he was born with it; others insist he had some kind of surgical procedure, like replacing it with a cow’s (possible only in science fiction) or having his sublingual frenulum cut. The sublingual frenulum is a small flap of tissue that anchors the tongue; you can yours in the mirror with a little contorting. People with ankyloglossia have an abnormally short frenulum that interferes with speaking – this is where we get the term “tongue-tied.” A sublingual frenectomy gives greater mobility to these patients, and may be done as an elective procedure by those hoping for Simmons-level lingual fame.

Next time, we’ll talk about taste – another area where myths abound. To learn more about this incredible organ, or to schedule an appointment with Dr. Fondriest, contact Lake Forest Dental Arts today at (847) 234-0517

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