10 Things That Live Inside Your Mouth
For many of us, the only time you really think about what’s inside your mouth is when you’re standing in the buffet line, salivating as you pray nobody takes all the macaroni before we get there. Or occasionally early in the morning, when you need to quickly rectify whatever’s inside your mouth making that smell float outside…
But there’s way more stuff going on in there than you might think. Some of it’s gross, some of it’s cool, but you won’t know what any of it is until you dive in. Let’s take a look at what’s living inside your mouth:
Of course, you knew that you have a tongue, but did you know that your tongue is actually an organ and is made up of eight different muscles? For some of us, that might mean we can do a mean party trick and fold our tongue in half, make it roll up like a cannoli, or twist it like a corkscrew. (You’re all trying one of these right now, aren’t you?)
The muscles in our tongue facilitate swallowing and move our food around the mouth so it’s chewed thoroughly and can be sent along to our stomachs for further digestion. It’s also very effective when you’re 3 (or 33) to stick out all eight of those muscles to demonstrate when you’re unhappy, annoyed or displeased with something.
Have any of you watched the video compilation of people giving lemons to babies? Depending on your sense of humor, this can bring you immense joy, or alternately, disappointment in the human race that people actually find such things funny.
Different foods can evoke different reactions, not only within us ourselves, but from person to person as well. This is all because of our tastebuds: wee little individual organs which are hardwired to our brain and let us know if something is salty, sweet, sour, or bitter. Tastebuds have very sensitive, microscopic hairs extending from them (called microvilli) which react with the chemicals in our foods and transmit the info to our brain via our nerves.
Certain flavor combinations (i.e. salty and sweet) can light up the pleasure centers of our brains like a Christmas tree, sending feel-good chemicals throughout our bodies. And believe it when people say food manufacturers have caught on and will hide salt and/or sugar in what we eat so we can’t get enough of whatever they’re makin’. This is why food labels and ingredient lists are our friends…
Your Teeth… And Some Extra Teeth for Good Measure
This one seems pretty obvious, and most of us know what our teeth are there for. But did you know you could grow extra teeth — and we’re not talking about those pain-in-the-keister wisdom teeth?
It is possible — and actually quite common — to have supernumerary teeth due to a syndrome called hyperdontia, where people grow more than the 32 permanent teeth that they’re supposed to. The extra chompers can appear in the roof of the mouth, on the gums, and even up beside the nose!
A dental extraction is the best way to deal with these suckers, and they can be detected by x-ray to see if any of their friends are still waiting to appear.
People say that your eyes are the windows to your soul. The same might be said about your gums, in that they’re the window to the inside of your body… (OK, maybe don’t break out that gem on your next date.)
But if you think about it, our gums are basically the inside of us, and not only can they tell us a lot about what’s going on in our bodies, but are also the direct route for things we don’t want to enter (i.e. bacteria and viruses). So, if your gums are puffy, painful and/or bleed easily, it’s important to visit your dentist pronto because there’s a lot of research showing how our gum health directly affects our overall wellbeing.
That weird pink thing that hangs at the back of your throat
What in the heck is that point of that thing anyway!? That “thing” in Science Land is called a palatine uvula and to be honest, those medical peeps aren’t actually 100% sure what it does. Some feel it’s involved in speech, while others believe it’s a leftover appendage that evolution discarded the need for. But most can agree that it’s excellent at producing saliva and helping in the digestion process. So, the disco ball of your mouth actually does have some kind of function after all!
Bacteria. Lots of it.
Now, let’s move along to the things you can’t see so easily. Remember the aforementioned natural wonder, morning breath? Well, this delightful human treat is caused by oodles of bacteria that live in our mouths. There are thousands upon thousands of bacteria living in your mouth — and even more if you and your toothbrush aren’t the best of friends.
It makes sense why: your mouth is moist, warm and cozy. Plus, there’s so much food for them to snack on!
These bacteria are responsible for many things in our mouths, from chewing through our teeth (i.e. cavities) to certain types of bacteria possibly being linked to oral cancer. Scary stuff. Hopefully all of us have gotten two take-aways from this: keep your toothbrush to yourself and get your teeth professionally cleaned as often as possible.
Living quite harmoniously in the mouth with their microscopic bacterial neighbors, are viruses. You may know about some of the more common ones because of personal experience, like our good friend the Epstein-Barr virus (EPV) which causes mono, a.k.a. “the kissing disease.” And don’t act all fancy thinking you haven’t run into this little sucker, because in the US, 95% of adults have been exposed by the time they’ve hit 40.
Some of us familiar with EPV know that it can make us feel like we’ve been hit with a two-by-four, leaving us unable to remain vertical for more than 5 minutes – however, for others, it may produce no symptoms at all (i.e. you fancy people). So, no sharesies of your cutlery, cups or toothbrushes, because EPV can live on surfaces for up to 6 months!
Other viruses found in the mouth are the common cold, flu and the coxsackievirus which causes hand, foot and mouth disease.
Fungi. Yes, fungi.
Those of you who are parents are probably quite familiar with thrush, the very common fungal infection in babies and toddlers. This is caused by an overgrowth of yeast (the fungus candida) living in the mouth and throat.
Candida lives in all of us and is especially fond of dark, moist places, and happily feeds on anything sugar-like. When there is an overgrowth in the mouth, the tongue and inner cheeks will be covered in filmy white, raised bumps which can be quite swollen and painful. Older adults also might deal with thrush, as well as those who have a depressed immune system.
If you have ever had a canker sore, especially if it’s big or appears on a more prominent area (like right above your “canine” tooth – the sharp, fang-like ones up front), you know that they’re really sore, make you drooly and can even challenge your ability to speak normally. They aren’t fun.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of things that cause these small, round lesions on the gums, cheeks and tongue. Quite commonly, they show up when we’ve eaten too many spicy or acidic foods. (Oh pineapple, why must you be so delicious?) They can also appear when trauma has occurred to the inside of the mouth (like if you bite your cheek or slip with your toothbrush) and when our immune system is depressed.
Researchers have found that those who suffer from gastrointestinal disorders (like Crohn’s and Celiac Diseases) more commonly get canker sores, and even bacteria can even bring `em on (like Helicobactor pylori, which is also the cause of stomach ulcers).
Let’s end this article with quite possibly the grossest, most gag-worthy thing imaginable. We’re just going to say it: a parasitic worm (!!!) can decide to hang out and make your mouth its home. Cue the whole-body shudder!
To figure out if you have one of these, (and you’re all praying you don’t) look for a rough or raised patch on the inside of your cheek or lips which doesn’t stay put. That means one day it might be in one place, and the next day, it could be elsewhere. Why won’t it stay put? Because it’s a parasitic worm. Living inside your mouth. We cannot stress that fact enough.
Thankfully, the occurrence of getting a parasitic worm in your mouth is incredibly rare, so the likelihood you’re going to actually have to deal with this is slim-to-none. The nightmares even knowing this information might produce? Well, that’s a whole other story!
Lauren Brown MSc. WWHP, is a certified Health & Wellness Coach who loves teaching about all facets of health and wellbeing. Much of her time is spent in workplaces, helping empower employees to get healthy through the wellness programming initiatives and educational sessions she delivers. Please see www.inspiringhealth.ca for more information.