What makes up a mouth? We all understand the basics of course: we have teeth, gums, a tongue, jaws, but there’s actually more to it than that.
There are two parts to dental anatomy: mouth anatomy and tooth anatomy. Understanding each part can help you better care for your dental health, realize why it’s so important and recognize clinical or administrative terms listed on your dental bill.
There are many parts to your mouth. You have your lips and cheeks, gums, teeth, tongue, alveolar bone, salivary glands, oral mucosa, upper and lower jaw, temporomandibular joint and uvula. Each of these parts works together to allow you to speak, eat, breathe, digest food and fight off illnesses.
Below we have broken these down to explain what they each are and how they are important to your mouth anatomy.
Lips and Cheeks
These are made up of muscles and serve many important functions. Your lips and cheeks…
- Allow you to pucker for a kiss
- Shape your facial expressions
- Let air into your mouth so you can breathe
- Help you speak
- Keep food and saliva in your mouth while you chew
- Keep your teeth in their proper place.
- Chew and Swallow: The tongue is responsible for moving food to your teeth so you can chew and then it moves it to the back of your throat so you can swallow.
- Speak: Were you ever told to roll your r’s in Spanish class? The tongue allows you to form sounds used in speech.
- Taste: There are roughly 10,000 taste buds on your tongue and other areas of your mouth. They help you detect salty, bitter, sweet and savory flavors when you eat.
- Health: Finally, the tongue is covered in oral mucosa, which we’ll talk more about below, but it essentially helps ward off germs and bacteria that enter the mouth.
We’ll go into more detail about teeth when we discuss tooth anatomy, but we can’t go without mentioning these when we talk about the mouth. What would our mouths be like without teeth? There are a lot of Pinterest images that can show you, at least visually, what it would be like. Toothless smiles only look good on babies, let me just say that!
Apart from the aesthetics though, you wouldn’t be able to enjoy some of your favorite foods without teeth. Your teeth allow you to chew food so it can be properly digested. Teeth also help you pronounce certain sounds.
Gums refer to the pink tissue that surrounds and supports your teeth. A few facts about your gums:
- They are covered by oral mucosa.
- They play a critical role in your oral health by protecting and supporting your teeth.
- They are firm and cover the entire root of the tooth.
Gums should not bleed when they are brushed, poked or prodded. At the dentist, they may poke and prod your gums to identify the health of them. It’s how they can check to see if you have gum disease, which can ultimately lead to tooth loss if not kept in check.
You can prevent gum disease by flossing everyday.
Have you heard your doctor talk about the temporomandibular joint? The temporomandibular joint allows you to open and close your mouth, move your jaw forward and from side to side, as well as chew, speak and swallow.
This joint is actually comprised of two joints located on both sides of your head. They work together with your jaw bone, facial muscles and ligaments.
Upper and Lower Jaw
Apart from making your face aesthetically pleasing, your jaws give your mouth the structure required for chewing and speaking.
The upper jaw contains two bones that connect to each other and the rest of your skull. The lower jaw is separate from your skull, which enables you to move it up and down so you can speak and chew.
Your mouth has six salivary glands located in your mouth and neck–the parotid, submandibular and sublingual glands. These glands produce saliva, which has many functions. Saliva…
- Breaks down food so it can be properly digested
- Moistens the mouth so you can speak, chew and swallow
- Washes away bacteria from your teeth and gums to help prevent cavities and gum disease
According to Healthline, salivary glands typically make 2 to 4 pints of saliva a day. That’s a lot of saliva! And good thing, too. Saliva is crucial to good oral health because it protects your teeth and gums by rinsing away food particles and bacteria that can wear down the protective enamel on your teeth.
That is why dry mouth can cause so many problems for your dental health.
Oral Mucosa covers everything in your mouth that isn’t a tooth. This is a protective lining. It is a mucous membrane similar to the mucous membranes that line the nostrils and inner ears.
The oral mucosa helps defend your body from germs and other types of irritants that may enter your mouth. And, fortunately, oral mucosa includes keratin (a fibrous structural protein), which helps make it resistant to injury, so you never need to worry about this protective lining being damaged.
The frenulum linguae is a special flap of oral mucosa within your mouth that connects the tongue to the floor of the mouth. If you’re like me, when I first learned about the frenulum linguae, my immediate reaction was, “That’s what that is!”
The frenulum linguae enables your tongue to move about in your mouth so it can do its job of moving food to your teeth and your throat.
The uvula is somewhat of a mystery to many scientists and researchers, but it is essentially a small flap of tissue that hangs down at the back of your throat. It is made up of muscle fibers, connective and glandular tissues and oral mucosa.
The uvula, while funny to look at, plays some type of role in your speech and keeping your mouth and throat moist, though the exact way it plays this role is still unknown.
As you can see, there is a lot more to the mouth than you might think, and every part works tirelessly together to make sure you can function properly.
Within your mouth are your teeth. We talk about those a lot at 1Dental. A typical adult mouth has 32 teeth, which should all completely erupt from the mouth by about age 13. These include:
- Incisors (8 total; the middlemost four teeth on the upper and lower jaws)
- Canines (4 total; the pointed teeth outside the incisors)
- Premolars (8 total; the teeth between the canines and molars)
- Molars (8 total; the flat teeth in the back of the mouth)
As seen above, the tooth is made up of the crown, the neck and the root. Within those is the enamel, dentine, pulp cavity (which contains the root canal and nerve and blood vessels) and cement. Beyond that is the gum tissue and the alveolar bone.
Parts of a Tooth
Teeth have a hard enamel crown. This is the top layer that you see when you smile or open your mouth and what you are probably most familiar with. This is the bone above your gums.
The neck sits just below the crown and above the root.
Your teeth have roots that anchor them to your jawbone. The root actually makes up about 2/3rds of the tooth’s total length. Think of the root like the root of a tree. A tree’s roots go down deep into the soil to help it stand firm.
Your gum tissue helps hold teeth in place and protects the roots of your teeth from decay.
The Alveolar Bone
The alveolar bone surrounds the roots of your teeth to stabilize them in your mouth.
Tissues of a Tooth
The enamel is the hardest substance in your body. It surrounds your tooth and protects it. It’s the durable, white covering on your tooth and is composed of strong minerals, like calcium phosphate.
Healthy enamel is resistant to bacteria that causes cavities. If your enamel is not healthy, it can be strengthened. Fluoride is a common mineral that can help replenish poor tooth enamel. That’s why dentists like to use it on patients’ teeth.
The dentin, or dentine as it’s sometimes called, supports the enamel on your tooth. Dentin is softer than enamel and makes up most of your tooth. It contains nerve fibers that tell you when something is wrong inside your mouth, like an unwanted cavity for instance.
When dentin is exposed, it’s highly susceptible to bacteria that can cause cavities.
The cementum covers most of the tooth’s root. It helps attach the tooth to the alveolar bone, which is a part of your jaw.
This is the center of the tooth. It’s a soft tissue that contains the blood and lymph vessels and the root canal. It’s how the tooth receives nourishment and transmits signals to your brain.
When one of these parts experiences decay or disease, it can cause a lot of problems in your mouth and for your overall health. Fortunately, there are many ways to take care of your teeth and gums at home and with the help of your dentist.
How to Take Care of Your Dental Anatomy
There is a lot that makes up your dental anatomy. With that information in mind, it’s clear why it’s so important to take care of your mouth and teeth. Each part should function well and to do that you need to take care of them.
Here are some quick tips for taking care of your mouth and teeth:
- Brush your teeth twice a day, at least two minutes at a time
- Use a fluoride toothpaste
- Clean between your teeth with dental floss everyday
- Brush your tongue regularly to keep your taste buds sharp
- Use mouthwash to reduce the amount of bacteria in your mouth and fight against bad breath
- Avoid tobacco products
- Limit sugar and carbohydrates – they lead to tooth decay
- Schedule regular dental appointments and professional cleanings; your dentist can remove tartar and plaque your toothbrush can’t reach. Your dentist should also conduct an oral cancer screening and check every area of your mouth for signs of disease.
- Use an electric toothbrush to help you clean those hard-to-reach places
The next time you go to brush your teeth or eat an apple from the kitchen, think about the different parts of your mouth and their functions. Remembering the different parts of your mouth and teeth can help you take better care of them as you go about your day – from brushing and flossing your teeth to how much you chew so you can better digest your food.
Everyday Health: Beyond Your Teeth
WebMD: Oral Care