You know brushing your teeth twice a day and flossing are staples of good oral hygiene, but is brushing your tongue really necessary? In short, yes.
Why is my tongue important?
Though the tongue often plays second fiddle to your pearly whites, it’s actually a critical body part. Without a tongue we wouldn’t be able to speak, chew, taste, or swallow food.
Your tongue is an organ made up of a group of muscles that each have a specific job. There is a small muscle at the tip of the tongue that moves quickly, using the surface of the teeth to create certain sounds, such as pronouncing the letter ‘L’. This muscle also moves food from the front of the mouth to the back, where it mixes with saliva and breaks down into digestible pieces. Other muscles in the tongue allow it to change shape and move in different directions. Additionally, muscles at the back of the tongue make it possible for us to articulate hard sounds of speech, such as the letters ‘K’ and ‘G’. These rear muscles also move food into the esophagus in small, controlled amounts to prevent choking.
The muscles that make up your tongue are covered with moist, pink tissue known as mucosa and tiny bumps called papillae, which are covered in thousands of taste buds and give the tongue its rough texture.
What happens if I don’t brush my tongue regularly?
Just as bacteria can build up on your teeth and create plaque, it can also accumulate between taste buds and other crevices on your tongue. Along with dead skin cells and food debris, bacteria become trapped on the tongue and need to be physically removed with brushing or scraping. If not cared for properly, your tongue essentially becomes a sponge spreading bad bacteria throughout the mouth, which can cause a number of health issues including:
- Bad Breath – The most common side effect of bacteria buildup on the tongue is halitosis. The odor-causing bacteria tends to congregate at the back of the muscle, so be sure to get your brush back there!
- Duller Tastebuds - The biofilm that builds up and coats your tongue can also cover your taste buds, leaving your sense of taste dulled.
- Black, Hairy Tongue – While it sounds like a horror movie, this is a real condition that occurs when the papillae become stained from leftover food and drink particles. These remnants give the tongue a dark, furry appearance.
- Oral Thrush – This occurs when bacteria levels in your mouth go beyond the normal range and naturally occurring yeast grow out of control.
- Periodontal Disease – Because bacteria buildup on your tongue can spread to your teeth and gums, it increases the likelihood of gingivitis (red, inflamed gums). If left untreated, the inflammation can advance to periodontal disease, which occurs when the gums pull away from the teeth and the space in between becomes infected. Not only can this lead to loss of teeth, chronic inflammation caused by periodontal disease is linked to more severe health issues, such as a higher risk of heart attack, stroke, and miscarriage.
How do I keep my tongue healthy?
A healthy tongue should be pink in color with papillae (tiny bumps) covering the surface. The best way to ensure your tongue stays healthy is to brush it every time you brush your teeth. Be sure to brush front to back and side to side, as bacteria hide in hard-to-reach places. Just be careful not to over brush, as that can cause irritation. Some patients prefer to use a tongue scraper and, though not necessary, inexpensive scrapers are generally available where toothpaste and dental floss are sold. Remember - a healthy tongue color isn’t a guarantee of good dental health, so don't forget to schedule regular dental exams and cleanings.
What if I still have questions?
That’s what we’re here for! If you have any questions or concerns about your oral health, don’t hesitate to contact our practice.