OpenStax Anatomy and Physiology
Perhaps you have heard it said that the tongue is the strongest muscle in the body. Those who stake this claim cite its strength proportionate to its size. Although it is difficult to quantify the relative strength of different muscles, it remains indisputable that the tongue is a workhorse, facilitating ingestion, mechanical digestion, chemical digestion (lingual lipase), sensation (of taste, texture, and temperature of food), swallowing, and vocalization.
The tongue is attached to the mandible, the styloid processes of the temporal bones, and the hyoid bone. The hyoid is unique in that it only distantly/indirectly articulates with other bones. The tongue is positioned over the floor of the oral cavity. A medial septum extends the entire length of the tongue, dividing it into symmetrical halves.
Beneath its mucous membrane covering, each half of the tongue is composed of the same number and type of intrinsic and extrinsic skeletal muscles. The intrinsic muscles (those within the tongue) are the longitudinalis inferior, longitudinalis superior, transversus linguae, and verticalis linguae muscles. These allow you to change the size and shape of your tongue, as well as to stick it out, if you wish. Having such a flexible tongue facilitates both swallowing and speech.
The extrinsic muscles of the tongue are the mylohyoid, hyoglossus, styloglossus, and genioglossus muscles. These muscles originate outside the tongue and insert into connective tissues within the tongue. The mylohyoid is responsible for raising the tongue, the hyoglossus pulls it down and back, the styloglossus pulls it up and back, and the genioglossus pulls it forward. Working in concert, these muscles perform three important digestive functions in the mouth: (1) position food for optimal chewing, (2) gather food into a bolus (rounded mass), and (3) position food so it can be swallowed.
The top and sides of the tongue are studded with papillae, extensions of lamina propria of the mucosa, which are covered in stratified squamous epithelium. Fungiform papillae, which are mushroom shaped, cover a large area of the tongue; they tend to be larger toward the rear of the tongue and smaller on the tip and sides. In contrast, filiform papillae are long and thin. Fungiform papillae contain taste buds, and filiform papillae have touch receptors that help the tongue move food around in the mouth. The filiform papillae create an abrasive surface that performs mechanically, much like a cat’s rough tongue that is used for grooming. Lingual glands in the lamina propria of the tongue secrete mucus and a watery serous fluid that contains the enzyme lingual lipase, which plays a minor role in breaking down triglycerides but does not begin working until it is activated in the stomach. A fold of mucous membrane on the underside of the tongue, the lingual frenulum, tethers the tongue to the floor of the mouth. People with the congenital anomaly ankyloglossia, also known by the non-medical term “tongue tie,” have a lingual frenulum that is too short or otherwise malformed. Severe ankyloglossia can impair speech and must be corrected with surgery.
Betts, J. G., Young, K. A., Wise, J. A., Johnson, E., Poe, B., Kruse, D. H., … DeSaix, P. (n.d.). Anatomy and Physiology. Houston, Texas: OpenStax. Access for free at: https://openstax.org/details/books/anatomy-and-physiology