Your mouth is part of your digestive and respiratory systems. It helps you with daily functions like eating, speaking and breathing. Taking care of your mouth can keep you healthy and reduce your risk for a wide range of dental and medical conditions.


An open adult mouth.
Your mouth is part of your digestive and respiratory systems. It supports many daily functions.

What is the mouth?

Your mouth is an oval-shaped opening that sits just below your nose. It starts at your lips and ends towards your tonsils. Your mouth is part of your digestive system and respiratory system.

Other names for your mouth include oral cavity.


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What’s my mouth’s function?

Your mouth supports many daily functions, including:

  • Breathing.
  • Talking.
  • Chewing.
  • Tasting.
  • Swallowing.
  • Eating.
  • Drinking.

Mouth function in digestive system

Your mouth is where digestion begins. When you chew food, your salivary glands make saliva (spit). Saliva helps break down starches in the foods you eat. Then your tongue moves the food into your throat, down through your esophagus and into your stomach.

Mouth function in respiratory system

Like your nose, your mouth brings air into your lungs. Since your mouth is larger than your nose, it brings in more air. And because the air doesn’t have to travel as far, your body can use it faster.

But unlike your nose, your mouth doesn’t have a filtration system. When you breathe through your nose, it filters, warms and moistens it. Tiny hairs (cilia) sweep mucus into the back of your throat where you swallow it, and then your stomach neutralizes it. Breathing mainly through your mouth (mouth breathing) can dry out your gums and cause issues like bad breath and dry mouth.


What are the parts of the mouth?

Many parts make up your mouth anatomy. These parts work together harmoniously to help with chewing, speaking and breathing.

The outside of your mouth creates a boundary that holds food in place and helps you form sounds and words. It includes your cheeks and lips.

The inside of your mouth contains your:


What should it look like inside a normal (healthy) mouth?

Signs of a healthy mouth include:

  • Strong teeth that don’t wiggle.
  • Minimal plaque buildup.
  • Pink, firm gums that aren’t swollen or sore.
  • Breath that smells pleasant or neutral.

It also shouldn’t hurt to chew or brush your teeth. Tell your healthcare provider if you develop any worrisome symptoms.

Conditions and Disorders

What conditions and disorders can affect your mouth?

General conditions that can affect your mouth include:

But there are many conditions that can affect specific parts of your mouth:



Palate (roof of mouth)

Soft tissues (oral mucosa)

Salivary glands


Taste buds

Cancerous conditions of the mouth

Oral cancers can affect any area of your mouth. Cancerous conditions of the mouth include:



How can I keep my mouth healthy?

You can’t totally prevent all these conditions. But you can reduce your risk of oral health issues with good oral hygiene, regular dental checkups and a healthy lifestyle:

  • Avoid smoking and chewing tobacco.
  • Brush your teeth, tongue and all around your mouth twice a day. Use a toothpaste that contains fluoride.
  • Drink plenty of water and limit sugary drinks.
  • Eat nutritious foods and consume processed foods in moderation.
  • Floss between your teeth once a day.
  • Visit a dentist twice a year.

When should I call my healthcare provider?

Call a healthcare provider or dentist if you experience any of the following symptoms in your mouth:

  • Sores or bumps that don’t go away or keep coming back.
  • Pain or soreness.
  • Frequent bleeding.
  • Gaps between your teeth and gums.
  • Foul odor.
  • Loose teeth.
  • Dry mouth that doesn’t go away.

Additional Common Questions

What does a bump on the roof of my mouth mean?

Many things can cause a bump on the roof of your mouth, including:

  • Nasopalatine duct cyst (a noncancerous bump that forms behind your upper front teeth).
  • Palatal tori (a harmless, bony growth).
  • Canker sores.
  • Cold sores.
  • Hyperdontia (extra teeth hidden under your tissue).
  • Oral cancer.

Having a bump on the roof of your mouth doesn’t necessarily mean there’s something wrong. But you should tell a healthcare provider so they can give you a diagnosis and help you find appropriate treatment.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Our mouths help us chew, speak, breathe and connect to the world around us. Without your mouth, you couldn’t taste freshly baked bread, smile at your neighbor or tell the people you love how much they mean to you. Taking good care of your mouth is essential for both dental health and whole-body health. Visit your dentist regularly for checkups and cleanings and let them know if you have any concerns.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 08/10/2023.

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