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A Handbook of Health by Woods Hutchinson

Those things that taste bad or bitter or salty or sour


[Illustration:

MOUTH-BREATHERS

Note how swollen the face is under the eyes and how tired and dull the whole expression.]

Adenoids not only cause deafness by blocking up the tube (_Eustachian_) that runs from the throat to the ear,--the tube through which the air passes when your ear "goes pop,"--but are also the commonest cause of ear-ache and gatherings in the ear, which may burst the drum.

THE TONGUE

The Tongue is not Used chiefly for Tasting. If you will notice the next time that you have a bad cold, you will find that you have almost lost your sense of taste, as well as of smell, so that everything tastes "flat" to you. This illustrates what scientists have known for a long time, but which seems very hard to believe, that two-thirds of what we call taste is really smell. If you carefully block up your nostrils with cotton or wax, so that no air can possibly reach the smell region at the top of them, and blindfold your eyes, and have some one cut a raw potato, an apple, and a raw onion into little pieces of the same size and shape, and put them into your mouth one after the other, you will find that it is difficult to tell which is which.

The only tastes that are really perceived in the mouth are bitter, sweet, sour, and salty; and even these are perceived quite as much by the roof and back of the mouth, especially

the soft palate, as they are by the tongue. All the delicate flavors of our food, such as those of coffee or of roast meat or of freshly baked bread, are really smells.

The tongue, which is usually described as the organ of taste, is really a sort of fingerless hand grown up from the floor of the mouth--to help suck in or lap up water or milk, push the food in between the teeth for chewing, and, when it has been chewed, roll it into a ball and push it backward down the throat. It is not even the chief organ of speech; for people who have had their tongues removed on account of cancer, or some other disease, can talk fairly well, although not so clearly as with the whole tongue.

The tongue is simply a "tongue-shaped" bundle of muscles, covered with a thick, tough skin of mucous membrane, dotted all over with little knob-like processes called _papillae_, which are of various shapes, but of no particular utility, except to roughen the surface of the tongue and give it a good grip on the food. If the mucous "skin" covering the tongue does not shed off properly, the dead cells on its surface become thickened and whitish, and the germs of the mouth begin to breed and grow in them, forming a sort of mat over the surface. Then we say that the tongue is badly coated. This coating is in part due to unhealthy conditions of the stomach and bowels, and in part to lack of proper cleaning of the mouth and teeth.

The Sense of Taste can usually be Trusted. Since the nose and the tongue have had about five million years' experience in picking out what is good and refusing what is bad, their judgment is pretty reliable, and their opinion entitled to the greatest respect. As a general thing, those things that taste good are wholesome and nutritious; the finest and most enjoyable flavors known are those of our commonest and most wholesome foods, such as good bread, fresh butter, roast meats, apples, cheese, sugar, fruit, etc.; while, on the other hand, those things that taste bad or bitter or salty or sour, or that we have to learn to like, like beer or pickles or strong cheese or tea or coffee, are more often unwholesome or have little nutritive value. Very few real foods taste bad when we first try them. If we used our noses to test every piece of food that went into our mouths, and refused to eat it if it "smelt bad," we should avoid many an attack of indigestion and ptomaine poisoning. It is really a great pity that it is not considered polite to "sniff" at the table.


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