When thinking about oral health we almost always think about the teeth and gums, but another huge component of oral health is the tongue. This great muscle is responsible for some of our most essential functions; swallowing, tasting and talking.
Why is it important to keep your tongue healthy?
Maintaining a healthy tongue is just as important as maintaining healthy teeth and gums.
Buildup on the tongue that appears white is an indication that there is a significant layer of buildup on the surface of the tongue. A white tongue, particularly one that appears to have grooves through it, can be a breeding ground for bacteria. A buildup of bacteria can cause bad breath. The bacteria can also contribute to tooth decay and gum disease.
Read more: Probiotics: Your Oral Health Secret Weapon
Illnesses of the tongue
Poor hygiene, as well as certain illnesses, can contribute to noticeable changes in tongue health. Here are a few illnesses that can occur within the tongue:
This is a yeast infection that occurs within the mouth. The infection occurs frequently in babies, however older adults and those with weakened immune systems, or those who take certain medications can also develop this condition. This illness commonly manifests as creamy white, raised lesions on the tongue, inner cheek, gums, tonsils or back of the throat. Left unchecked, the lesions can spread to the esophagus causing problems with swallowing and fever.
These white patches occur as an overgrowth of cells on the tongue. These patches generally occur in mouths of those who smoke tobacco products, as the smoke irritates the mouth. Leukoplakia can be a precursor for cancer, so it is important to have these areas checked at your next dental visit.
There are several possible causes of a tongue that appears red or may even have red spots. Vitamin deficiencies of b-12 or folic acid are known to cause the tongue to appear red. A “geographic tongue where red spots form on the tongue can also make the tongue red, scarlet fever can also cause the tongue to be red.
Sore or bumpy tongue
Most commonly we experience bumpy or sore tongues from accidental biting or tooth grinding. For symptoms that last for an extended period it is important to have your dentist examine the area.
Black, furry tongue
A tongue that appears black and “furry” has an extreme buildup of bacteria or yeast atop the papillae (taste buds). Many times this condition is commonly caused by poor oral hygiene, but can also be caused by tobacco smoking, taking certain antibiotics, full body radiation treatment, drug use and HIV.
Read more: Is Human Mouth Cleaner than a Dog’s?
Steps to Improve Tongue Health
1. Brush your tongue well
When you brush your teeth, it’s important to give your tongue a good brush as well. Your tongue is covered in bacteria that can cause bad breath, and it’s also the perfect breeding ground for bacteria that can cause cavities. By brushing your tongue well, you can help to keep your mouth healthy and prevent tooth decay.
2. Tongue scraping
Tongue scraping can help clean off bacteria and buildup off of the surface of the tongue. A tongue scraper can be purchased inexpensively at a pharmacy, and is used to gently scrape away buildup. Be sure to rinse properly after scraping, to remove the bacteria from the mouth.
3. Watch your diet
Because the tongue is a muscle, it can also be beneficial to eat a diet that is rich in vitamins and minerals that help fortify muscles, as well as foods that help fight bacteria. Muscles thrive on iron rich foods such as spinach and leafy greens, red meat, poultry and seafood. There are several foods that have notable anti-microbial properties when consumed, foods including chopped onions, shiitake mushrooms, garlic, coconuts and ginger.
4. Drink green tea
Bet you didn’t know that drinking green tea can also be helpful for tongue health. Green tea contains antioxidants that can help to protect the tongue from bacteria and other harmful agents. In addition, green tea can help to freshen your breath and reduce inflammation.
5. Monitor the color of your tongue
It’s important to monitor the color of your tongue. A healthy tongue is typically pink in color with a relatively smooth surface. If you notice a change in color, it could be an indication of dehydration, an infection, or something else entirely. Bumps on the tongue can also be cause for concern. Of course, it’s always best to consult with a doctor if you notice any changes in your tongue, but monitoring the color is a good place to start.
6. Drink plenty of water
While most of these bacteria in your mouth are harmless, some can cause bad breath, tooth decay, and other problems. That’s why it’s important to keep your tongue healthy by brushing it regularly and drinking plenty of water. Did you know that by drinking water, you’re helping to flush away harmful bacteria and keeping your tongue moist? A moist tongue is less likely to harbor bacteria, and it’s also less likely to suffer from tongue soreness or inflammation.
7. Smoking is very harmful to the tongue
Most people know that smoking is bad for their lungs, but did you know that it can also have a negative impact on your tongue health? For starters, smoking can cause your tongue to become discolored. This is because the tar and nicotine in cigarettes stain the tongue, making it turn yellow or brown. In addition, smoking can also cause your tongue to become dry and irritated. This is because the smoke from cigarettes dries out the tongue, leading to inflammation and discomfort. So if you’re looking to keep your tongue healthy, quitting smoking is a good place to start.
8. Visiting your dentist every six months is highly recommended.
The best way to ensure that your oral health is kept in check is to brush and floss daily, use a tongue scraper daily and visit the dentist every six months for professional exams and cleanings. If you have dental insurance, your exam and cleaning is likely 100% covered! Schedule your next cleaning by clicking here.