Oral cavity

Last revised by Candace Makeda Moore on 18 Jan 2023

The oral cavity, also known as the mouth, is the most proximal portion of the aerodigestive tract, and is continuous posteriorly with the oropharynx.  

The oral cavity includes the lips anteriorly. For purposes of staging oral carcinoma according to the 8th edition of the AJCC TNM staging system, the oral cavity starts at the portion of the lip that contacts the opposed lip (wet mucosa) and excludes the dry vermilion lip.

The oral vestibule is the space between the labial and buccal mucosa anteriorly/laterally and posteriorly/medially the teeth and gingiva.

Parotid glands are located at the lateral walls of the oral cavity. Both levator and tensor veli palatini (that elevates soft palate during swallowing) also insert into the lateral walls. Palatoglossus and palatopharyngeus also extend from the base of the uvula laterally into the base of the tongue 5. These two muscles (palatoglossus and palatopharyngeus) form a concavity to house the palatine tonsils 5.

Submandibular and sublingual glands are located at its floor 5.

Posteriorly, the oral cavity extends to a ring of structures (circumvallate papillae, anterior tonsillar pillars, and junction of hard and soft palates) that divides it from the oropharynx.

The oropharyngeal isthmus (fauces) is the relatively constricted opening between the oral cavity and the oropharynx, but is considered to be part of the oropharynx.

The oral cavity is divided into a number of subsites both anatomically and for the purposes of cancer staging:

Lymphatic drainage of the oral cavity includes submental, submandibular, retropharyngeal, and deep cervical nodes 5.

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Cases and figures

  • Figure 1
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