Digestion begins in the mouth, where food is chewed by the teeth and mixed by the tongue with saliva secreted by the salivary glands. Swallowing forces the food into the oesophagus, where it progresses to the stomach by coordinated muscle contractions. The mouth, tongue, and oesophagus are constantly exposed to irritants and infection from food and airborne particles.
The first half of this section deals with disorders of the mouth and tongue. These conditions range from mouth ulcers, which are common and relatively mild, to the serious disease mouth cancer. Also included are disorders that involve inflammation, such as glossitis (inflammation of the tongue), and disorders that cause white patches in the mouth, such as oral leukoplakia.
Two disorders affecting the salivary glands are described next. Salivary gland stones are painful but can usually be removed successfully. The majority of salivary gland tumours are not cancerous, and their outlook is generally good, but they may recur.
The last part of the section covers disorders of the oesophagus, including gastro-oesophageal reflux disease, which is the most common, and cancer of the oesophagus.
For disorders specifically affecting the teeth and gums, see Teeth and Gums.
For more information concerning the structure and function of the mouth, tongue, and oesophagus, see Digestive System.
From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.
The subjects, conditions and treatments covered in this encyclopaedia are for information only and may not be covered by your insurance product should you make a claim.