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Its primary function is to serve as the entrance of the alimentary tract and to initiate the digestive process by salivation and propulsion of the alimentary bolus into the pharynx.

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The mobility of the lips is also critical to speech production, whistling, singing, the playing of wind and brass musical instruments, expectoration, and human behavioral communication eg, kissing, smiling, pouting, baring of teeth. The oral cavity see the image below is oval shaped and is separated into the oral vestibule and the oral cavity proper.

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The oral cavity includes the lips, gingivae, retromolar trigone, teeth, hard palate, cheek mucosa, mobile tongue, and floor of the mouth. The major salivary glands are in close relation with oral cavity structures, although they are not part of the oral cavity. The tongue is part of the oral cavity; its anatomy is specifically described elsewhere see Tongue Anatomy.

The palatine tonsils, soft palate, tongue base, and posterior pharyngeal walls are part of the oropharynx; the oropharynx is not part of the oral cavity. The oral vestibule is bounded externally by the lips and the cheek mucosa and internally by the alveolar processes and the teeth. When the teeth are in occlusion, the vestibule communicates with the oral cavity proper via the intermaxillary commissure behind the last molar teeth.

The longer upper lip and shorter lower lip are connected to each other by the labial commissures at the corners of the mouth. The lips are separated from the cheeks by the nasolabial fold.

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The cheeks are a musculomembranous structure and are limited superiorly and inferiorly by the upper and lower vestibules, anteriorly by the labial commissure, and posteriorly by the retromolar trigone and the intermaxillary commissure. The upper labial frenulum see the first image below is larger than the lower labial frenulum see the second image below. Stensen's duct runs through the buccinator muscle. A horizontal slightly elevated streak called the linea alba or occlusal line traverses this region. The buccinator muscle forms the muscular framework of the cheek and is also a muscle of facial expression.

Mouth anatomy

It is covered by the buccal fat pad, which smoothes the cheek contour by filling in the depression and the anterior border of the masseter. The masseter muscle covers the buccinator. The gingiva or gum is a fibroepithelial mucosal tissue that surrounds the teeth and covers the alveolar jawbone. The alveolar process is the tooth-bearing area of the jaws.

It is composed of a dense outer cortex known as the cortical plate and looser inner trabecular or medullary bone. The area of cortical bone that lines the dental socket or alveolus is called the lamina dura.

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The retromolar trigone is a small triangular-shaped subsite of the oral cavity. It is the portion of mucosa that lies behind the third molar tooth, covering the anterior ramus of the mandible.

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The base of the triangle is posterior to the last inferior molar tooth; the apex is in continuity with the tuberosity of the maxilla behind the last upper molar tooth. The retromolar trigone is bounded laterally by the gingival buccal sulcus and medially by the anterior tonsillar pillar.

The teeth are calcified structures whose main purpose is mastication. Each tooth is composed of a crown, which is the exposed portion above the gumline, and a root, which is embedded in the jawbone. Deciduous teeth also referred to as primary or temporary teeth are the first to emerge in the oral cavity and are progressively replaced by the permanent or adult dentition. There are 20 deciduous teeth, comprising 8 molars, 4 canines or cuspidsand 8 incisors. The permanent dentition consists of 32 teeth: 12 molars including 4 so-called wisdom teeth or third molars8 premolars or bicuspids4 canines, and 8 incisors.

Incisors have a thin occlusal edge, a somewhat flat crown, and a single root.

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Their main purpose is to cut food. Canines have a pointed shape and single long roots.

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Their main function is to pierce and tear food. The occlusal or masticatory surface of molars and premolars is characterized by pointed structures named cusps. Premolars usually have 1 or 2 cusps and 1 or 2 roots. Molars usually have cusps and roots, the shape of which is highly variable.

The purpose of molars and premolars is to grind and crush food. The palate is the horseshoe-shaped, domed roof of the oral cavity. It is divided into a hard portion and a soft portion. The hard palate belongs to the oral cavity and separates it from the nasal cavities.

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The soft palate belongs to the oropharynx and separates it from the nasopharynx. The hard palate is concave, and this concavity is occupied mostly by the tongue when it is at rest. The hard palate is subdivided into the primary and secondary palates.

The anterior two thirds of the hard palate is formed by the incisive bone, or premaxilla, and the palatine processes of the maxilla. The horizontal plates of the palatine bone form the posterior third. The secondary palate presents a midline elevated suture line termed the median or palatine raphe.

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The hard palate also has transverse ridges or rugae on the anterior third that serve to retain the food bolus. The soft palate marks the beginning of the oropharynx and is the movable posterior third of the palate. It forms an incomplete septum between the mouth and the pharynx. It is marked by a median raphe and is continuous with the roof of the mouth and the mucous membrane of the nasal floor see the image below. When the soft palate is relaxed, its anterior surface is concave and its posterior surface is convex.

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The anterior aponeurotic portion is attached to the posterior border of the hard palate, and the posterior muscular portion hangs between the mouth and the pharynx and is termed the palatine velum or velopharynx. The velum is prolonged by a median free process termed the uvula and 2 bilateral processes termed the palatoglossal and palatopharyngeal arches or pillars, which the soft palate to the tongue and pharynx, respectively. They are bounded superiorly by the soft palate, inferiorly by the root of the tongue, and laterally by the pillars of the fauces.

The palatine tonsils are located in the tonsillar sinuses or fossae of the oropharynx, which is bounded by the palatoglossal and palatopharyngeal arches and the tongue. They are thoroughly described elsewhere see Tonsil and Adenoid Anatomy. During swallowing, the soft palate is initially tensed to squeeze the bolus of food between the tongue and pharynx before elevation of the soft palate to block the nasal passages while the bolus is propelled into the pharynx.

Mouth growths

The floor of mouth forms the inferior limit of the oral cavity. It is often compared to a quadrangular pyramid with a posterior base. Superficially, it is separated into 3 zones: the anterior floor of the mouth located anterior to the lingual frenulum and the 2 sublingual folds located between the lateral tongue and the mandibular gingiva.

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The sublingual papillae also referred to as caruncles or folds can be identified on both sides of the frenulum in the anterior part of the floor of mouth when the tip of the tongue is raised see the image below. The sublingual glands have multiple small ducts that drain directly into the floor of the mouth.

The tongue is a mobile muscular organ that occupies the major part of the oral cavity and part of the oropharynx.

Mouth growths

Its main functions are pushing food into the oropharynx during swallowing and forming words during speaking, although it is also implicated in mastication, taste, and oral cleansing. The major salivary glands are large paired exocrine glands that communicate with the mouth and pour their secretions into its cavity.

They comprise the parotid, submandibular or submaxillaryand sublingual glands. Because food is physically broken down in the oral cavity, this region is lined by a protective, nonkeratinized, stratified squamous epithelium, which also lines the inner surface of the lips. The histologic structure of the tongue is addressed elsewhere see Tongue Anatomy.

The outer lip outer vermilion is lined with skin. The epidermis is composed of stratified squamous, keratinized epithelium. Beneath the epidermis, the dermis is composed of sebaceous glands, hair follicles, sweat glands, arrector pili muscles, and the neurovascular bundle on the lip periphery. The inner lip interior vermilion is lined with a stratified squamous, nonkeratinized epithelium.

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Under the epithelium is a lamina propria, the counterpart of the dermis. Tubuloacinar labial glands are found in the submucosa. These are predominantly mucous; their secretion moistens the oral mucosa, and their small ducts open into the oral cavity. The core of the lip contains fibers of the striated orbicularis oris muscle. Lining mucosa is found on the cheeks. It covers striated muscle and major salivary glands. The epithelium of the lining mucosa is nonkeratinized, although in some places it can be parakeratinized.

Parakeratinized epithelium is similar to keratinized epithelium, except that the superficial cells do not lose their nuclei.

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The nonkeratinized lining epithelium is thicker than keratinized epithelium. It consists of a stratum basale a single layer of cells on basal laminaa stratum spinosum several cells thickand a stratum superficiale the most superficial layer. The cells of the mucosal epithelium include keratinocytes, Langerhans cells, melanocytes, and Merkel cells.

The underlying lamina propria is a thick papillary layer of loose connective tissue that contains blood vessels, nerves that send axon endings into the epithelium, and encapsulated sensory endings in some papillae. The lining mucosa has fewer and shorter papillae so that it can adjust to the movement of its underlying muscles. The distinct submucosa of the lining mucosa contains large bands of collagen and elastic fibers that bind the mucosa to the underlying muscles. It also contains the many minor salivary glands of the lips, tongue, and cheeks, which are predominantly mucous.

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Torus palatinus is a harmless, painless bony growth located on the roof of the mouth the hard palate.


Dysphagia refers to a difficulty in swallowing — it takes more effort than normal to move food from the mouth to the stomach.