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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.

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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).

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

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