What is the mouth?

The term “mouth” refers to the opening of the digestive tract and to the oral cavity at the same opening.  It is supported by a skeletal arch composed from the maxillary (upper) and mandibular (lower) divisions, each of which is equipped with teeth. The lips mark the transition from mucous membrane to skin, which covers most of the body.

In addition to its primary role as the beginning of the digestive system, the mouth also plays a role in phonation and respiratory functions. While the primary aspects of the voice are produced in the throat, the lips, tongue and jaw are also needed to produce sounds included in the human language. The mouth is also the first portion of the alimentary canal that receives food and saliva. It is considered the most important factor in determining taste and is lubricated on the inside by the salivary glands.

The mouth is considered from different structural standpoints. From the top to the bottom, it can be described as: the upper lip, the upper gums, the upper teeth, and palate (hard front, rear springs), the uvula, the two tonsils, the tongue, the lower dental arch, the lower gums and the lower lip. In reference to the front/rear, this describes the presence of the lips followed by the teeth and gums, which are located underneath the tongue and tonsils and above the palate (hard and soft) and the uvula.

Sores, painful gums, mouth ulcers and bad breath are common mouth problems that may occur due to various reasons such as bacteria or viruses, or as symptoms of other more severe conditions such as mouth cancer or gum disease. Seeking proper medical assistance is essential in diagnosing an individual’s condition and determining the most appropriate form of treatment. While complications can arise in certain cases, finding the correct diagnosis can help prevent symptoms from worsening.


What function does the mouth serve?

The mouth performs several functions including the following:


  • Respiratory function: through the mouth, air gets into the larynx and then reaches the bronchi, avoiding any obstruction of the nasal passages. This process is undergone even though the inspired air from the mouth does not undergo the entire process of humidification, purification and heating as is done by the nose.  
  • Digestive function: the mouth is the primary area where the food is introduced into the body, in order to be easily digested by the stomach, through chewing and the presence of saliva. The breakdown of the food is made by the teeth through and the action of enzymes in the saliva. The food is then considered partially digested before being swallowed whole into the body.
  • Taste buds function: the mouth acts as a receptor for taste. The taste buds are located around the small structures on the upper surface of the tongue, upper esophagus, cheek, soft palate, and epiglottis. They detect taste perception by: salty, sweet, sour, bitter and savory.
  • Phonation function: the mouth acts as a sounding board and modulation to the sounds that are emitted from the larynx. In other words, it helps produce sounds included in the human language.