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What did you eat for breakfast this morning? Whether it was eggs, pancakes, cereal, or toast, it all had to go through the same entrance: your mouth. This is the beginning of a tract called the digestive system, which contains your teeth, your throat, your stomach, your intestines, and other parts of your body. They work together to digest your food.
What Is the Digestive System?
The digestive system is made of a group of organs that convert food into molecules, like glucose, that your body uses so that you can grow and move. The system has two subgroups: the alimentary canal and the accessory organs. The esophagus, a muscular tube in your throat; your stomach; and your small and large intestines are part of the alimentary canal. The food you eat goes through the alimentary canal. The accessory organs, including the salivary glands in your mouth, the pancreas, the liver, and the gallbladder, help with digestion but don’t directly interact with the food.
- Diagram of the Digestive System: Simple, annotated diagrams walk you through the organs involved in the digestive system here.
- Digestive System Anatomy Exploration: The interactive anatomy explorer on this page gives an in-depth overview of the major and minor parts of the digestive system.
- The Digestive System Explained: Learn the basic role of each organ in the digestive system and the common problems that can impair the digestion process.
- Digestive System Labeling: Label the parts of the digestive system using the list of names to the right.
- The Structure and Function of the Digestive System: Read about what organs make up the digestive system and how they help with digestion.
Why Is Digestion Important?
The food you eat is full of nutrients to fuel your body. You’ve probably heard that carrots are good for your eyes because they have vitamin A, that milk will strengthen your bones because it has calcium, and that chicken is good for you because it has protein. Without digestion, none of those nutrients would matter because your body wouldn’t be able to use them. In digestion, your body uses your teeth, stomach acids and enzymes, and bacteria in your intestines to break your food into tiny pieces that the bloodstream absorbs and sends to your cells.
- Digestion and the Nutrients in Food: Learn about the carbohydrates, proteins, fats, and vitamins that your body breaks down during digestion.
- Why the Digestive System Matters: Why do we have a stomach? What’s the point of having a small intestine and a large intestine? What would we do without the liver and pancreas? This article answers those questions.
- Why Your Gut Health Is More Important Than You Probably Think: Dig a little deeper into the microbiome of your gut here.
How Does the Digestive System Work?
The digestive system starts at your mouth. When you put food in your mouth, your teeth break the food into smaller pieces, and the salivary glands under your tongue and on the sides and roof of your mouth release saliva. This saliva mixes with your food to make it easier to swallow. It also has enzymes that start breaking carbohydrates into simple sugars for the body.
When you swallow, the processed food created by chewing and saliva, called a bolus, slides down your esophagus. At the end, the bolus drops into your stomach. Gastric juices containing powerful acids and enzymes mix with the bolus to make chyme, a semi-fluid paste. Muscles working in the stomach keep the food and juices moving during this process.
From the stomach, muscles push the chyme to the first part of the small intestine, called the duodenum. Digestive enzymes from the pancreas and bile from the liver and gallbladder are there to further break down the proteins, carbohydrates, and fats in your food. In the lower parts of your small intestine, the jejunum and the ileum, the food is broken down into molecules, and villi on the walls of the small intestine absorb the nutrients.
The next stop is the large intestine, or the colon. The large intestine removes water from the food that the body did not digest. What’s left behind is stool, also called feces. The stool makes its way to the lower part of the large intestine, where the chamber called the rectum stores it until it is released through the anus.
- About the Digestive System and How it Works: A slide show and a brief article describe the process of digestion. Bolded words indicate key scientific terms.
- Animation of the Human Digestive System: Watch this video to learn all about the parts of the digestive system and how they work.
- Digestion Tutorial: Click on the body parts in this interactive diagram to learn their names and their roles in the digestive system.
- How Your Digestive System Works: As shown in this fun video, food travels on a 29 ½-foot, 40-hour journey to become nutrients small enough for your body to absorb.
- See How Your Digestive System Works: Seven slides cover the roles of the main organs of the digestive system.
What Are Teeth?
The human mouth has three main types of teeth: incisors, canines, and molars. Teeth are like bones, but they are a lot stronger. They have four tissues: enamel, dentin, cementum, and pulp. The first, enamel, is the part of the tooth you’re cleaning when you brush your teeth. Enamel, a hard tissue, is about 95% mineral. Underneath this hard outer covering, the dentin connects to the nerves in your tooth, and the cementum covers the tooth roots. The pulp at the center contains all of your tooth’s nerves, blood vessels, and connective tissue.
Even though teeth aren’t technically bones, you still need to strengthen them the way you strengthen your bones. In addition to what you can do at home, going to a dentist can help keep your teeth strong. It’s important to get regular checkups from a Stratford, CT, dentistry practice to make sure that your teeth are in good shape.
- The Anatomy of a Tooth: A video, labeled diagram, and list of terms walk you through the layers, veins, and tissues of your teeth on this page.
- The Five Types of Human Teeth and Their Functions: When you eat, you unconsciously use different teeth to chew food of different sizes and textures.
- Tips for Good Oral Hygiene and Healthy Smiles: You know that brushing and flossing your teeth and using mouthwash is important for oral hygiene, but do you know the best, healthiest techniques?
- What Are Teeth Made Of? This quick read touches on the enamel, dentin, and pulp of teeth.
What Is Their Role in the Digestive System?
As the beginning of your digestive system, teeth are essential. Chewing food is the first step in converting it into molecules that your body can use. If your teeth aren’t healthy, then you can’t break your food down as effectively.
Poor oral health affects other bodily functions, too, not just digestion. Doctors have linked crooked, crowded, or uneven teeth or teeth grinding to conditions like sleep apnea, in which someone repeatedly stops breathing during sleep. This dangerous condition requires immediate sleep apnea treatment. Stratford dentists can help with this, too.
Brushing daily, flossing, and eating healthy foods are part of managing your dental health. Dentists also recommend going for a professional cleaning every six months, so make sure to see a Stratford children’s dentist regularly.
- Seven Reasons to Properly Chew Your Food: Chewing your food well makes digestion past your mouth easier.
- The Digestive System: Digestion Begins in the Mouth: The salivary glands in your mouth and your teeth play an important role at the start of the digestive system.
- The Effect of Poor Oral Health on Digestion: Read how your teeth and mouth affect your digestion and how poor oral health can create problems in your heart, brain, and bones.
- How Your Teeth Affect Your Digestive System: Your molars, incisors, and premolars each work to chew your food a certain way. If your teeth aren’t healthy, chewing could be more difficult or even painful.
- Why Bacteria and Your Teeth Are Key to Digestive Health: Dr. Steven Lin calls the mouth “the gatekeeper of your gut.” What happens there sets the stage for the rest of the digestion process.