How to properly clean your tongue

You know that regular brushing and flossing can help remove harmful bacteria from your teeth and gums, which aids in preventing dental cavities, gum disease and other oral health concerns. But did you know that cleaning your tongue should also be a part of your regular oral health care routine?

Similar to the way bacteria biofilms cling to your teeth and gums, bacteria can reside on the complex texture of your tongue. The tongue’s rough surface is covered with hundreds of tiny papillae. These tiny bumps give your tongue a rough appearance and feel, but the miniscule spots also contain your taste buds and the tongue’s temperature receptors.  

It is important to remember that not all bacteria in the mouth cause decay or disease. In fact some bacteria in the mouth are beneficial, protecting you from disease-causing pathogens.  Much of the bacteria in the mouth is anaerobic, meaning it does not need oxygen to survive. And most of the bacteria in your mouth also produces very foul-smelling byproducts when it comes into contact with residue from food or drink.

Bad breath can be the result of a cup of coffee, a garlic-laden dinner, smoking, gum disease or dry mouth, but bad breath can also be caused by excessive bacteria on your tongue.  Bacteria is usually caused by food or drink residue but can also be caused by mucus from sinus drainage that can coat the back of the tongue. If your tongue looks black, white, hairy or otherwise unusual, you have bacteria present and it’s time to add tongue cleaning to your oral care routine.

The tongue can be cleaned with a regular toothbrush or a special tongue scraper appliance designed specifically for the purpose. To clean your tongue, stick your tongue out as far as possible, then use the tooth brush or tongue scraper to sweep from back to front, cleaning the surface of your tongue and removing any film, buildup or debris you see.  Rinse your toothbrush or tongue scraper between sweeps. Be careful not to press to hard. Your tongue should not be bleeding or feel sore following cleaning. If it is, use more gentle pressure during the next cleaning. 

Using correct, gentle methods, you can safely clean your tongue each time you brush your teeth. Tongue cleaning should be used in conjunction with a regular oral care routine.  The combination of effective brushing and flossing and tongue cleaning helps to reduce the presence of harmful bacteria in the mouth and can prevent bad breath.

It is important to remember that gums, mints and mouthwashes do not remove the bacteria that cause the odor of bad breath, they only mask the problem.  Thorough cleaning will more effectively remove the root cause of halitosis. No matter how thorough your oral care routine, your mouth will never be 100 percent free of bacteria. But correct attention to detail, careful maintenance and regular visits to your dentist for checkups can help keep your oral health in the best shape possible.

Don’t be afraid to take charge of your oral health care.  Brush, floss and clean your tongue often to avoid cavities, gum disease and other dental health care concerns.  If you do suspect a problem, consult your dentist or oral health care provider immediately.  Don’t let dental anxiety prevent you from handling problems promptly. Waiting usually only makes problems worse.  You dentist will partner with you to ensure that you enjoy the best oral health possible.

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