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The Tongue

Sources: 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.