Mouth Anatomy for Kids

The human mouth acts as the entrance to the digestive tract. Parts of the mouth, such as the teeth, start the process of breaking down food so that it can be absorbed by the body for energy. Other parts, such as the tongue, help with tasting food and speaking. Keeping the mouth healthy is important when it comes to keeping the rest of the body healthy. The bacteria behind conditions such as gum disease and tooth decay can spread from the mouth to other areas of the body, making a person very sick.

Lips and Palates

The lips act as the entrance to the mouth. They are made up of skin, muscle and mucous membranes. A muscle called the “orbicularis oris” causes the lips to open and close, allowing a person to eat food or open their mouth to speak. The lips play a big role in forming the sounds of many words and letters, such as vowel sounds and certain consonant sounds including “b” and “p.”

The inside top of the mouth is called the palate. It’s made up of the hard palate near the front of the mouth and the soft palate at the back. If a person presses their tongue to the top of their mouth, they can feel the difference between the hard and soft palate. The hard palate separates the mouth from the area of the nose while the soft palate keeps food and drink from going down the wrong pipe, or down the airway instead of the esophagus, which leads to the stomach.

Tongue

The tongue is a muscle found in the middle of the mouth. It plays a big role in helping people form sounds and taste foods. The tongue has a top surface, called the dorsal surface, and a bottom, called the ventral surface. The dorsal surface is covered in bumps called papillae. Papillae help people move pieces of food through their mouths. They also help people taste food.

Some of the bumps or papillae contain taste buds. When a person is born, they have about 10,000 taste buds, but can lose up to half of the taste buds as they go through life. Each taste bud detects a particular flavor, such as sweet, bitter, sour, and salty.

The tongue does other things in the mouth besides help people taste food. It plays a big part in pushing saliva, or spit, towards the back of the mouth when a person sleeps, so that they don’t drool. Movement of the tongue in the mouth also helps people form certain words and sounds. For example, the letters “K” and “G” as in “go” would be impossible to sound out without the tongue.

Gums

Found inside the mouth, the gums, also known as gingiva, cover the jawbone and teeth sockets. The gums help protect the teeth. If a person doesn’t take care of their mouth, skips brushing and flossing, and never goes to the dentist, bacteria can build up on the gums, causing gum disease. If a dentist doesn’t clean away the bacteria, the disease can become worse, causing a person to lose their teeth.

Teeth

People need teeth to chew and break up food. The teeth also help people speak clearly. Everyone has two sets of teeth throughout life. The first set of teeth is commonly called baby teeth and officially called deciduous teeth. Babies start getting their first teeth around the age of six months and should have all of them by about two and half years of age.

People typically have 20 baby teeth. Most start to lose their baby teeth around the age of six through the age of 12. The baby teeth are replaced with permanent teeth, which should stay in the mouth for the rest of a person’s life, as long as they take good care of them. Teeth come in different shapes and play different roles in the mouth.

The four teeth in the front of the mouth on the top and bottom are called the incisors. They are flat and have a squared off top. The pointy teeth found on the left and right of the incisors are the canine teeth. Each person has four canines, which have a pointy tip. They help people tear food when taking a bite.

Next to the canines are the premolars, followed by the molars. The premolars and molars have a rough surface and are designed for chewing food. The final set of molars, called the wisdom teeth, start coming in when people are in their late teens. Many people have their wisdom teeth taken out, as their mouths aren’t big enough for the extra teeth.

The hard covering on the outside of teeth is the enamel, which protects the teeth from wear and tear and allows them to chew and tear up food. Dentin is just under the enamel. It protects the soft pulp underneath it. The pulp is the middle of the tooth, which contains the nerves and blood.

Teeth can be divided into two sections. The crown is the portion of the tooth that is visible when a person opens their mouth. The root is the part of the tooth found underneath the gums.

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