Unless we accidentally clamp down on our tongue while eating, we probably don’t give this underappreciated part of our physical body much thought. But our tongues are an incredible taste-sensation muscle! At Lifetime Family Dental in Gilbert, AZ, we treat oral health of the teeth, gums—and yes, the tongue—as our top priority. For optimal health, a well-rounded, daily oral hygiene routine should automatically include taking care of the tongue.
The Amazing Muscle(s) of the Tongue
It does everything. You can speak clearly because your tongue contributes to forming certain sounds against your teeth. And while you’re chewing food, the tongue is busy shifting food back and forth to help your teeth process particles. In particular, it moves food toward the back of your mouth so your molars can crush and grind it effectively.
Your tongue is also the reason you enjoy that food and drink you ingest. Sources vary on how many taste buds we actually have on our tongues, but most indicate you have somewhere between 2,000-4,000. And remarkably, those sensory cells replace themselves weekly! They interpret four different tastes for you: salty, sweet, bitter and sour. Recently, scientists have debunked the theory that certain parts of your tongue interpret certain types of tastes, a theory that was first developed by a German scientist in the early 1900s. Now they know that in fact, taste buds for each type of taste are positioned all over the tongue.
And that wonderful, speech-clarifying, taste-sensing, moveable muscle is actually not one muscle. It is an intertwining combination of eight muscles that work together to do their job of moving, rearranging, shifting, swallowing, speaking, and more.
Taking Care of the Tongue
So you do want to take care of this marvelous, tireless, food-directing powerhouse. Like your teeth and gums, it needs some TLC in order to stay healthy and do its job of keeping you in good shape.
When you’ve finished brushing your teeth properly (there is a right way and wrong way to brush: follow this link for good technique), the next step is brushing your tongue.
Most toothbrushes these days have a little tongue-brushing patch that you’ll find opposite of the bristles on the stem of your toothbrush. You can use that patch, or, if using a soft to medium-bristled brush, you can use the bristles. Tongue scrapers are also available, but a brush will effectively serve the purpose of keeping your tongue clean.
You want to brush the whole tongue. Start from the back and move forward. If you have trouble with a gag reflex, it may help you to use a smaller brush or lean front over the sink while brushing. Resist brushing too hard – you only want to brush away the mucus formation that can trap bacteria on your tongue. Once you’ve reached back-to-front and side-to-side, rinse your brush and your mouth, and continue with flossing your teeth. As with brushing, there is a right and wrong way to floss. Check this link for the best technique.
In addition, here are a few other tips for taking care of the tongue:
—Drink plenty of water. It helps to wash away bad bacteria.
—Avoid sugary drinks that can contribute to bacterial growth and decay, and in general, keep your sugar intake to a minimum.
—Don’t smoke. It can dry out your mouth, which affects saliva production that protects your mouth and tongue by helping to wash away bacteria. Smoking can also cause discoloration of your tongue and contribute to oral cancer.
What if I Don’t Brush My Tongue?
If you don’t brush your tongue, that mucus film that covers your tongue throughout the day can become like a trap for bad bacteria lurking beneath it. If your tongue isn’t brushed along with your teeth, you could develop problems with bad breath and open the door to oral infections.
Taking care of the tongue is one part of a complete dental hygiene routine that includes two dental cleanings each year. If it’s time for your biannual checkup, give us a call and we’ll schedule you for a professional cleaning that, along with your good at-home oral care, can help keep your oral cavity healthy. At Lifetime Family Dental in Gilbert, AZ, we care about your oral health. If you have questions, feel free to give our office a call. We’re a family dental practice that cares about families like yours!