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Oral Cavity Anatomy

Oral cavity - anterior viewThey don’t say for nothing ‘health comes first, and it enters through the mouth’. When we say ‘mouth’ we mean the oral cavity; a space in the lower part of the head that functions as the entrance to the digestive system.

The content of the oral cavity determines its function. It houses the structures necessary for mastication and speech, which include the teeth, the tongue and associated structures such as the salivary glands. Most of the oral cavity functions are related to the tongue, especially the tongue’s muscular and sensory abilities. That’s why this page on the anatomy of the mouth will focus on tongue anatomy.

Oral Cavity

The oral cavity is situated anteriorly on the face, under the nasal cavities. It is bounded by a roof, a floor and lateral walls. Anteriorly it opens to the face through the oral fissure, while posteriorly the oral cavity communicates with the oropharynx through a narrow passage called the oropharyngeal isthmus (also termed the isthmus of the fauces). The oropharyngeal isthmus is surrounded by the soft palate and palatoglossal arches.

A number of bones contribute to the framework of the oral cavity; these are the paired maxillae, palatine and temporal bones, as well as the unpaired mandible, sphenoid and hyoid bones.

The cavity is separated into anterior and posterior parts by the dental arches (or teeth): the anterior oral vestibule sits anteriorly to the teeth and behind the lips, whilst the oral cavity proper describes the area behind the teeth.

The inside of the oral cavity is constantly lubricated by salivary glands which also participate in food digestion by secreting enzymes that start the digestion of carbohydrates. These glands are the parotid, submandibular and sublingual glands.

Explore our content to learn everything about the anatomy and function of the oral cavity!
 

Oral Cavity
Overview of the oral cavity
Overview of the oral cavity

Tongue Anatomy

The tongue is the central part of the oral cavity. It’s a muscular organ whose base is attached to the floor of the oral cavity, whilst its apex is free and mobile. 

Structure of the tongue - review

The tongue is predominantly muscle. There are 8 in total; 4 intrinsic muscles and 4 extrinsic. For more on these muscles, see the tongue muscles section below. Besides the muscles, the other important feature of the tongue is its mucosa. The dorsal tongue mucosa is covered with lingual papillae which function as the sensory receptors for taste. There are four types: filiform, fungiform, vallatae and foliate papillae. The papillae have different shapes upon which they are named. Can you guess what a fungiform papillae looks like? Like a fungus, exactly! 

All the papillae act as taste receptors except for the filiform, which have a purely mechanical role. You may wonder what that mechanical role is. Well, filiform papillae are present on the tongue of every vertebrate species and are quite prominent in cats. So basically, they are very sharp and serve for the cleaning of fur. Luckily for us, soap was invented in 2800 BC so we don’t have to lick our skin in order to get clean. This is why our filiform papillae have shrunk and became less prominent.

The best way to understand the importance of the different parts of the tongue is to cover the tongue histology and anatomy together, which you can do through our articles, video tutorials, quizzes and clinical cases!

Tongue
Disorders of the Tongue
Structure of the tongue
Lingual papillae
Structure of the tongue
Lingual papillae

Tongue Muscles

Tongue mobility and strength are important for the processes of speech and mastication. These abilities are determined by the tongue muscles. Muscles that make up the inside of the tongue are called the intrinsic muscles of the tongue. They are responsible for many of the tongue’s functions; such as talking, mastication and any other action that requires the tongue to move. These muscles control movements such as twirling, curling, flattening and broadening of the tongue.

Muscles that are located outside the tongue and only attach to it in specific regions are called the extrinsic muscles of the tongue. These assist the tongue and support it in more complex actions such as protrusion and retraction.

The 4 intrinsic muscles of the tongue are: the superior longitudinal, inferior longitudinal, transverse and vertical muscles.

Key Facts about Intrinsic Muscles of the Tongue
Superior longitudinal muscle Origin: lingual septum
Insertion: tongue margins
Function: curls tip up, elevates sides, shortens tongue
Inferior longitudinal muscle Origin: base of tongue, body of hyoid bone
Insertion: apex of tongue
Function: curls tip down, shortens tongue
Transverse muscle Origin: medial lingual septum
Insertion: marginal fibrous submucosa
Function: narrows and lengthens tongue
Vertical muscle Origin: dorsal submucosa
Insertion: ventral submucosa
Function: flattens and broadens tongue
Innervation All innervated by hypoglossal nerve

The 4 extrinsic muscles of the tongue are: the genioglossus, hyoglossus, styloglossus and palatoglossus muscles. 

Key Facts about Extrinsic Muscles of the Tongue
Genioglossus muscle Origin: superior genial tubercle of symphysis menti
Insertion: lateral margin of tongue, inferior part of tongue
Function: depression and protrusion of tongue
Hyoglossus muscle Origin: body and greater horn of hyoid bone
Insertion: lateral margin of tongue, inferior part of tongue
Function: depression and retraction of tongue
Styloglossus muscle Origin: styloid and stylohyoid ligaments
Insertion: lateral margin of tongue, inferior part of tongue
Function: retraction of tongue
Palatoglossus muscle Origin: aponeurosis of soft palate
Insertion: lateral margin of tongue
Function: elevation of base of tongue
Innervation All innervated by the hypoglossal nerve, except for the palatoglossus which is supplied by the vagus nerve

Learn everything about the tongue muscles through this fun and engaging content!
 

Muscles of the tongue
Muscles of the tongue

Tongue Innervation

The sensory and motor functions of the tongue are enabled by cranial nerves. All of the tongue muscles are innervated by the hypoglossal nerve (CN XII), except for the palatoglossus muscle which is supplied by the vagus nerve (CN X).

Sensory innervation is carried by several nerves: 

  • General and taste sensation from the posterior third of the tongue: glossopharyngeal nerve (CN IX)
  • General sensation from the anterior two-thirds of the tongue: lingual nerve (branch of the mandibular nerve - V1)
  • Taste sensation from the posterior two-thirds of the tongue: facial nerve (CN VII)

Besides rich innervation, the tongue has an extensive blood supply that comes from the lingual artery, a branch of the external carotid artery. Learn everything about the innervation and vascularization of the tongue with these great video tutorials and quizzes:

Neurovasculature of the tongue
Taste pathway
Neurovasculature of the tongue

Video tutorials for oral cavity anatomy

Overview of the oral cavity
Tongue level
Structure of the tongue
Lingual papillae
Muscles of the tongue
Neurovasculature of the tongue
Taste pathway
Hypoglossal nerve
Glossopharyngeal nerve
Vagus nerve
Mandibular nerve
Salivary glands
Parotid gland
Cranial nerves
Sphenoid bone
Mandible
Temporal bone
Organs of the digestive system
Teeth

Oral cavity anatomy quizzes

Overview of the oral cavity
Structure of the tongue
Lingual papillae
Muscles of the tongue
Neurovasculature of the tongue
12 cranial nerves
Hypoglossal nerve
Glossopharyngeal nerve
Vagus nerve
Facial nerve
Mandibular nerve
Overview of the oral cavity
Salivary glands
Teeth names
Overview of the teeth
Gingiva and teeth
Digestive system
Submandibular gland
Sublingual gland
Parotid gland
Temporal bone
Mandible
Sphenoid bone
The hyoid bone

Oral Cavity Anatomy - want to learn more about it?

Our engaging videos, interactive quizzes, in-depth articles and HD atlas are here to get you top results faster.

Sign up for your free Kenhub account today and join over 1,006,895 successful anatomy students.

“I would honestly say that Kenhub cut my study time in half.” – Read more. Kim Bengochea Kim Bengochea, Regis University, Denver

Show references

Article, review and layout:

  • Jana Vaskovic
  • Nicola McLaren

Illustrations:

  • Oral cavity - anterior view - Johannes Reiss
  • Structure of the tongue - review - Mohammed Albakkar
© Unless stated otherwise, all content, including illustrations are exclusive property of Kenhub GmbH, and are protected by German and international copyright laws. All rights reserved.

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