If you leave out your tongue from your daily brushing and flossing, you're leaving bacteria in your mouth that can cause tooth decay, gum disease and bad breath. Cleaning your tongue adds just a few seconds to your routine. Here is why your tongue is important to your dental care and how to keep it from causing you tooth and gum problems.
Your Tongue's Design Traps Bacteria
The tongue is covered with hundreds of small bumps called papillae. They provide the texture on the tongue to hold onto food particles and move them around in your mouth as you chew. These bumps create cracks and crevices in which bacteria can live. Brushing and flossing doesn't touch these bacteria, so your mouth may feel clean, but there is still a source of tooth decay and gum disease on your tongue. To have a more complete protection against these bacteria, you need to clean your tongue along with your other dental cleaning habits.
Cleaning Your Tongue as You Brush and Floss
There are two common ways of cleaning the bacteria off of the tongue. Try each approach to find which works best for you. If they both work equally well, use both and gain a little extra protection.
Tongue brushing - After you brush your teeth, run the brush over the tops and sides of the tongue for a few seconds. Get as far back on the tongue as you can. You don't need to brush the smooth part of the tongue underneath because that side doesn't hold onto the bacteria like the rough top and sides. Some people find it hard to brush their tongue because their gag reflex kicks in and makes this uncomfortable. If this is the case for you, then try the tongue scraping approach.
Tongue scraping - Ask your dentist to recommend a good tongue scraping tool. This has a long, flat surface that is used to scrape the bacteria from the tongue's surface. Place the scraper as far back on your tongue as you can reach. Push down gently and pull the scraper across the top and sides of the tongue. Rinse the material out of your mouth that you scrape off of your tongue as the saliva will have a high content of bacteria. If you have a coating on your tongue from smoking or eating certain foods, such as dairy products, don't try to scrape it off or you'll irritate your tongue. The coating will wear off throughout the day.
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