Meet Your Tongue
It’s one strong organ.
1 Anatomy of a Tongue
That wet, pink protrusion in your mouth is amazingly intricate. The tongue is an organ made up of eight muscles that give it flexibility and endurance; they help you form sounds and allow you to move it every which way without its getting tired. It’s coated with tiny bumps called papillae, which grip food as you chew, and each of these is covered in microscopic taste buds. When taste buds come in contact with food or drink, nerve cells send a signal to your brain that tells you if you’re tasting something salty, spicy, tangy, or sweet. As we age, we lose some of the roughly 10,000 buds we’re born with; this is why you may notice your sense of taste getting duller.
2 What It’s Trying to Say
Besides alerting you to how the food you’re eating tastes (or if it’s gone bad!), the tongue provides a window to the rest of your body. A healthy tongue is bright pink with an even surface. If it’s covered in a thick white coating, that could mean you’re dehydrated, but if you see white patches, call your doctor—this could signal the fungal condition thrush, and she can prescribe antifungal medication to help clear the infection and run tests for conditions of which thrush can be a symptom.
3 Heal It From Hurt
Your tongue has many nerve and sensory cells, which is why even the teensiest bite or burn can be really painful and even turn into a super-ouchy bump. Here’s how to help the tongue recover:
A BURN: This damages your papillae, but luckily they regenerate quickly after a scalding and should heal in a couple of days. While you wait, soothe the pain by sucking on an ice cube.
A BITE: Neurons in the brain control our internal mouth motions to protect the tongue from getting bitten while we chew, but sometimes it still happens. If it does, swish around a cleansing saltwater solution.
A CUT: Even the tiniest injury can trigger inflammation and a sore spot or bump while the body repairs the damage. If it really hurts, an over-thecounter pain reliever like ibuprofen can help.