mouth, entrance to the digestive and respiratory tracts. The mouth, or oral cavity, is ordinarily a simple opening in lower animals; in vertebrates it is a more complex structure. In humans, the mouth is defined in front and at the sides by the lips, jawbone, teeth, and gums; in the rear it merges with the throat. The roof of the mouth is composed of the hard and soft palates and the floor of the mouth is formed by the tongue, a muscular structure that contains the organs of taste (taste buds). The lips, palates, tongue, and teeth are the major components in speech formation, using the "raw sound" formed in the larynx. The process of digestion begins in the mouth; the chewing and grinding action of the teeth reduces the food to a readily digestible substance. The enzymatic process of converting starch to sugar is initiated by salivary amylase (ptyalin) excreted by the three salivary glands located at the angle of the jawbone and under the tongue. Saliva produced in these glands moistens food, preparing it for processing in the digestive system.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.