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The Tongue

Source: A Handbook Of Health

The Tongue is not Used chiefly for Tasting. If you will notice the
next time that you have a bad cold, you will find that you have almost
lost your sense of taste, as well as of smell, so that everything tastes
flat to you. This illustrates what scientists have known for a long
time, but which seems very hard to believe, that two-thirds of what we
call taste is really smell. If you carefully block up your nostrils with
cotton or wax, so that no air can possibly reach the smell region at the
top of them, and blindfold your eyes, and have some one cut a raw
potato, an apple, and a raw onion into little pieces of the same size
and shape, and put them into your mouth one after the other, you will
find that it is difficult to tell which is which.

The only tastes that are really perceived in the mouth are bitter,
sweet, sour, and salty; and even these are perceived quite as much by
the roof and back of the mouth, especially the soft palate, as they are
by the tongue. All the delicate flavors of our food, such as those of
coffee or of roast meat or of freshly baked bread, are really smells.

The tongue, which is usually described as the organ of taste, is really
a sort of fingerless hand grown up from the floor of the mouth--to help
suck in or lap up water or milk, push the food in between the teeth for
chewing, and, when it has been chewed, roll it into a ball and push it
backward down the throat. It is not even the chief organ of speech; for
people who have had their tongues removed on account of cancer, or some
other disease, can talk fairly well, although not so clearly as with the
whole tongue.

The tongue is simply a tongue-shaped bundle of muscles, covered with a
thick, tough skin of mucous membrane, dotted all over with little
knob-like processes called papillae, which are of various shapes, but
of no particular utility, except to roughen the surface of the tongue
and give it a good grip on the food. If the mucous skin covering the
tongue does not shed off properly, the dead cells on its surface become
thickened and whitish, and the germs of the mouth begin to breed and
grow in them, forming a sort of mat over the surface. Then we say that
the tongue is badly coated. This coating is in part due to unhealthy
conditions of the stomach and bowels, and in part to lack of proper
cleaning of the mouth and teeth.

The Sense of Taste can usually be Trusted. Since the nose and the
tongue have had about five million years' experience in picking out what
is good and refusing what is bad, their judgment is pretty reliable, and
their opinion entitled to the greatest respect. As a general thing,
those things that taste good are wholesome and nutritious; the finest
and most enjoyable flavors known are those of our commonest and most
wholesome foods, such as good bread, fresh butter, roast meats, apples,
cheese, sugar, fruit, etc.; while, on the other hand, those things that
taste bad or bitter or salty or sour, or that we have to learn to like,
like beer or pickles or strong cheese or tea or coffee, are more often
unwholesome or have little nutritive value. Very few real foods taste
bad when we first try them. If we used our noses to test every piece of
food that went into our mouths, and refused to eat it if it smelt bad,
we should avoid many an attack of indigestion and ptomaine poisoning. It
is really a great pity that it is not considered polite to sniff at
the table.

Next: The Eye

Previous: The Nose

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