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The oral cavity serves three essential functions in human physiology: (1) the production of speech, (2) the initiation of alimentation, and (3) protection of the host. A discussion of oral–pharyngeal health and function throughout the human life span must consider the impact of any disturbance of these three functions on an older person's life.

In order to speak, process food, and protect the host from pathogens and trauma, many specialized tissues have evolved in the oral–facial region (Table 42-1). The teeth, the periodontium, and the muscles of mastication exist to prepare food for deglutition. The tongue occupies a central role in communication, and is also a key participant in food bolus preparation and translocation. Salivary glands provide a secretion with multiple functions. Saliva, in addition to lubricating all oral mucosal tissues to keep them intact and pliable, moistens the developing food bolus, permitting it to be fashioned into a swallow-acceptable form. All these tissue activities are finely coordinated, and a disturbance in any one tissue function can significantly compromise speech and/or alimentation and diminish the quality of a patient's life (Table 42-2).

Table 42-1 Oral Tissues and Their Functions
Table 42-2 Clinical Manifestations of Oral Infections

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