An older study at the orthodontic department of the University of Edinburgh’s dental school found that the mean average tongue length for adults is 3.3 inches (8.5 centimeters) for men and 3.1 inches (7.9 cm) for women.
The measurement was made from the epiglottis, a flap of cartilage behind the tongue and in front of the larynx, to the tip of the tongue.
Keep reading to learn more about the tongue, including its function, what it’s made of, the longest tongue ever recorded, and more.
Your tongue has a crucial role in three critical functions:
- speaking (forming speech sounds)
- swallowing (propelling food)
- breathing (maintaining airway opening)
The human tongue has a complex architecture that allows it to move and form into different shapes for its role in eating, speaking, and breathing.
The tongue chiefly comprises skeletal muscle underneath a mucous membrane covering. But the tongue isn’t just one muscle: Eight different muscles work together in a flexible matrix with no bones or joints.
This structure is similar to an elephant trunk or octopus tentacle. It’s called a muscular hydrostat. Tongue muscles are the only muscles in the body that work independently of the skeleton.
Intrinsic and extrinsic skeletal muscles
Intrinsic and extrinsic skeletal muscles make up your tongue.
The intrinsic muscles are within the tongue. They facilitate swallowing and speech by allowing you to change the shape and size of your tongue and to stick it out.
The intrinsic muscles are the:
- longitudinalis inferior
- longitudinalis superior
- transversus linguae
- verticalis linguae
The extrinsic muscles originate outside your tongue and insert into connective tissues within your tongue. Working together, they:
- position food for chewing
- shape food into a rounded mass (bolus)
- position food for swallowing
The extrinsic muscles are the:
- mylohyoid (raises your tongue)
- hyoglossus (pulls your tongue down and back)
- styloglossus (pulls your tongue up and back)
- genioglossus (pulls your tongue forward)
According to the Library of Congress, the tongue is a hard worker. It works even when you’re sleeping, pushing saliva down your throat.
The title of the hardest-working muscle in the body, however, goes to your heart. The heart beats more than 3 billion times in a person’s life, pumping a minimum of 2,500 gallons of blood every day.
You’re born with about 10,000 taste buds. Once you pass 50 years old, you may start to lose some of them.
The taste cells in your taste buds respond to at least five basic taste qualities:
- umami (savory)
Your tongue could be as unique as your fingerprints. No two tongue prints are similar. In fact, a 2014 study found that even the tongues of identical twins don’t resemble each other.
The study concluded that larger-scale research should be fielded to identify all tongue features that may be useful in biometric authentication processes and forensics.
The study also found a correlation between tongue fat volume and obstructive sleep apnea severity.
Every tongue is unique.
The average tongue length is about 3 inches. It comprises eight muscles and has about 10,000 taste buds.
The tongue is critical for speech, swallowing, and breathing. Tongue health matters: They can gain fat and worsen obstructive sleep apnea.