Muscles in the Mouth, Explained

cat opening mouth wide

Every day we eat, drink, and spend a few minutes thinking about our teeth as we brush and floss. It’s not often, though, that we spend much time thinking about the muscles in our mouth that allow us to chew, swallow, and speak. The muscles surrounding the mouth are complex and hard at work and understanding them will give you a new appreciation for what they do for you every day:

Mastication Muscles

On the outside of your mouth, there are many facial muscles that form the cheeks and lips, and that assist in speech and facial expression. The orbicularis oris is the major muscle that immediately surrounds the mouth itself. Four major muscles are the ones responsible for mastication (chewing): the masseter, temporalis, medial pterygoid, and lateral pterygoid muscles move your jaw up and down, assisting in chewing, grinding, and speaking.

  • The masseter muscle is the main muscle used for chewing. It is the strongest muscle in the entire body, with the ability to close your jaws with anywhere from 55 to 200 lbs. of pressure.
  • The temporalis muscle originates above your temple and connects to the jaw. It assists in the side-to-side movement during chewing, closing the mouth, and grinding movements.
  • The pterygoid muscles are underneath the masseter and assist in chewing movements. It is responsible for opening the jaw, clenching, moving side-to-side and rotating, and projecting the lower jaw.

Tongue Muscle

Inside your mouth, your tongue is not only the most obvious muscle, it is also an extremely flexible one that actually consists of eight interwoven muscles covered in receptors which you know as taste buds. Your tongue helps to move food towards your teeth and eventually back towards your throat as well as playing a crucial role in speech. The tongue is rooted at the back of the mouth and contains blood vessels, nerve bundles, and glands that secrete fluids found in saliva.

Throat Muscles

There are over 50 pairs of muscles that are responsible for helping you to properly swallow your food. Your tongue pushes the food to the back of your mouth towards your pharynx and then your throat engages in that muscle contraction we all know as swallowing. During swallowing, your larynx muscle contracts tightly to halt breathing and allow food to pass safely into the esophagus and towards the stomach. Then you take another bite and the process starts all over again!

The complex way our bones, teeth, and muscles work together to deliver food to our stomachs and to enable human speech is not only fascinating, but it also shows the importance of taking care of your oral health. Strong teeth and healthy gums are an important part of helping your body to function well, and Rigby Advanced Dental offers comprehensive and gentle care for all of your dental needs. Dr. Rigby is a certified prosthodontist, specializing in the restoration and replacement of teeth, and has the expertise to provide you with a happy, healthy smile. Contact us today to schedule an appointment.