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Your mouth can be a pretty crazy place. We don’t often think of it, but the fact of the matter is there’s a lot of stuff happening in there. Below we’ll dive into your glorious oral cavity and check out some of the crazy cool things that happen in there everyday.
We’ve broken this infographic up into five different sections to keep things organized. If you want to view it in its entirety, click here.
Fact 1: The Number of Taste Buds
Okay, so depending on where you look they’ll tell you the average adult human has anywhere between 2,000 and 10,000 taste buds, but the average tends to lie somewhere in the range of 5,000. That may sound like a pretty low number until you realize all of those fit in an area that’s about three square inches!
So why do we taste in the first place? As one might expect, evolution didn’t exactly have piles of Godiva chocolate or deep dish Chicago pizzas in mind. Taste originally developed as a form of defense for a variety of organisms. Since then, we’ve developed a far more detailed and accurate sense of taste.
Our current taste buds are able to taste 5 different flavors (although some research shows it may actually be 6) and each taste has about 10 levels of intensity. These combined with senses of touch, temperature and smell add up to a nearly infinite number of taste combinations!
Fact 2: Taste Bandwidth
So this is a pretty general number, but it ends up giving us a nice ballpark figure. Let’s break it down.
Each taste bud is comprised of anywhere from 10 to 50 sensory cells, but the taste bud itself ‘agrees’ upon one taste before it sends anything to the brain. Studies show that it will send information about once every 50 ms, or up to 20 times per second.
If we take the information above (an average of 5,000 taste buds per person) we’ll come to about 100,000 pieces of information sent per second. That said, humans and computers send information in very different ways, so calling the information our taste buds send a ‘bit’ is maybe a bit of a stretch. But you get the point.
How does this compare to other senses? Well, it’s actually pretty low. The University of Pennsylvania conducted a study that concluded that our vision’s bandwidth is about 8.75 megabits per second.
That’s just shy of 100 times more information per second.
Our vision also sends information continuously whereas taste will only send information when there’s something to taste.
Fact 3: Functions of Saliva
Our saliva can be a bit annoying sometimes (especially when we wake up with our pillow soaked in spit) but it’s an incredibly useful fluid. Beyond keeping things nice and moist, saliva provides us with a number of different functions that are pretty crucial.
The most obvious function is beginning our digestion process. It not only helps to make food easier to swallow, but it actually begins breaking it down. Saliva is responsible for about 30% of starch digestion and also begins to break down fat.
The second big thing that saliva does to help us out is to flush all the bad stuff away. As much as you brush and floss (or use your trusty Waterpik) there’s still going to be junk that gets stuck in your teeth and gums. Saliva will help to flush that out and keep those germs from hurting your teeth and your oral tissue.
Saliva also plays a huge role in helping our mouth maintain a balanced level of acidity. Just about everything you eat will alter the pH levels in your mouth. When the pH level of your mouth gets too low, that’s when tooth decay starts to occur (among other things). While brushing your teeth and rinsing your mouth out with mouthwash can help with this, the majority of pH balancing is done by saliva. Without it, our teeth would constantly be rotting.
Finally, saliva is the first step of defense for our immune system. A large percentage of illnesses, viruses, bacteria and other unwanted things enter our body through our mouth. A surprising number of those never make it any further. Things like antimicrobial enzymes will help to kill these nasty critters on the spot.
Fact 4: Cells in Our Saliva
It never ceases to amaze me at how small cells actually are. The graph above proves that by showing that there can be over 500 million cells in each mL of saliva. Want to hear the kicker? Saliva is 99.5% water. That means those 500+ million cells reside in that last 5%.
Now you might get a bit worried when reading this. What are those 500 million “foreign cells” and what are they doing in my mouth? Don’t worry, the vast vast majority of those aren’t harmful at all.
At least in a health sense.
They probably will give you some issues with bad breath though, so make sure you’re doing all the standard stuff to get rid of that stuff (mouthwash, tongue scrapers, toothpaste, chewing gum, etc.). They also might contribute to some staining as well, so make sure you’re doing what you can to keep stains away and get those pearly whites even whiter!
Fact 5: Saliva Production
That’s right. You produce up to 25 water cooler jugs of spit every year. Crazy, isnt’ it? I’d like to note that this is on the high end. The average human will produce somewhere between 0.25 and 0.5 gallons per day, so it could be much lower.
And obviously those with dry mouth will produce even less.
Even still, that’s crazy.
Your Mouth By The Numbers Wrap Up
So there you are – 5 crazy facts about your mouth that you probably didn’t know before! Don’t get to excited though, your taste buds and saliva can’t do anything. Make sure you’re continuing to brush, floss, whiten your teeth and rinse your mouth. Having a robust and well-rounded oral care routine every morning is an essential part of oral health.
For the full infographic, take a look below.