The tongue is unique in that it is the only muscle that isn't connected to bone at both ends. It is connected on one end to the hyoid bone, which is also unique as it is the only bone not connected to any other bone in the body.
The tongue's primary physiologic function is gustatory sensation (tasting) and aiding in mastication (chewing). It also helps with speech and sound formation.
The tongue is made up of a number of individual muscles that aid in positioning it while chewing or speaking. The upper "skin" surface of the tongue contains the taste buds. The average person has between 2,000 and 8,000 taste buds on their tongue but this number varies widely. Taste buds cover the surface of small, nipple-like projections called, papillae, which are easily visible.
There are a number of problems that can develop with the tongue. These include:
- Nerve damage that inhibits tongue movement and can make speaking and chewing difficult
- Taste abnormalities caused by damage to the taste buds from infection or injuries, such as burns
- Pain in the tongue that can be caused by mouth ulcers, anemia, or even mouth cancer