Although there is some uncertainly regarding the function of the uvula, experts believe that this small flap-like structure in the back of the throat plays important roles in speech and swallowing. The uvula contains glands that secrete a large amount of saliva, which aids in digestion, keeps the mouth moist and prevents airborne pathogens from entering the respiratory canal.
The uvula is attached to the roof of the mouth by a muscle called the musculus uvulae. This muscle controls the contraction and elevation of the uvula, and this movement is believed to play a role in speech. According to Health Medicine Magazine, the uvula and the soft palate work together to create gutteral sounds. These sounds, which are common in the French and German languages, involve pressing the back of the tongue against the hard palate at the location of the uvula.
The uvula is also important during the act of swallowing; it prevents pieces of food from entering the nasal cavity. Its prolific saliva production also makes food easier to swallow. Health Medicine Magazine also suggests that the uvula is responsible for the gag reflex. When something touches it, the person automatically gags or vomits to expel the offending item or substance.