Why You Should Always Brush Your Tongue

Problems with bad breath? Want to improve your oral hygiene? Read these handy hints and tips for brushing your tongue and eradicating nasty odours for good.

Why You Should Always Brush Your Tongue

Image by M&R Glasgow on Flickr.  

It is endlessly surprising to find out just how well people brush their teeth, but still disregard the health of their tongue. This is something which often puzzles and amuses dentists, because the tongue is pretty hard to miss. Yes, the teeth are the most important part of the mouth, but the tongue allows us to speak and swallow. Without it, it is fair to say that we would be truly lost. So, give yours some love and take five minutes out of your day to keep it looking pink and healthy.

The greatest irony is that so many people spend so much time worrying about whether their teeth are causing bad breath when, in reality, the tongue is the main culprit. It is soft, warm, and covered in tiny grooves. All of these features make it the ideal breeding ground for bacteria. So, if you are worried about halitosis (bad breath), the first place to look should always be the mighty tongue.

And, the first step should be with the brush. These days, the vast majority of toothbrushes come with a series of soft ridges on the head. If you have ever wondered about their purpose, it is time to give them a go. These small ridges are usually not very efficient, especially compared with a specially designed tongue scraper, but they are a good way to clean the surface and prevent nasty odours from building.  

Taking a Closer Look at Your Tongue

First things first, go and find a mirror. Open your mouth wide and take a good long look at your tongue. This might feel strange, but it is something that we should all do more often. For the most part, the health of the tongue is represented visually. If there is something wrong, you can usually spot it right away. For example, you might have white spots on the surface or a thick yellow coating. The tongue should not be sore to the touch or look inflamed, irritated, or red and spotty.  

White or yellow spots can be a symptom of oral thrush, so it is important to keep an eye on the health of the tongue and its general surroundings. As aforementioned, you can do this by simply standing in front of a regular bathroom or hallway mirror. However, for convenience and a better look, pick up one of the angled mirrors that you see in dental surgeries. So, what does a healthy tongue look like?

If you tongue is in tip top condition, there will be no discolored patches on its surface. The top will be pinkish, but not too red, and free of white and creamy coatings. It is important to note that, at some points during the day (particularly after waking up), there might be a small amount of residue on your tongue. This is normal and will not cause you any harm as long as you give it a good brush after you have cleaned your teeth.

Recognising Signs of Poor Health

If the residue returns very quickly, despite regular brushing, becomes very yellow in colour or emits an unpleasant odour, you may have an oral infection. You can ask your doctor for an anti-fungal medication to clear it up or, if the case is mild, wait for the symptoms to be alleviated with thorough brushing and good oral hygiene. Similarly, if the surface of the tongue is cracked or sore, there could be a problem.

Unless you are in pain or experiencing a lot of discomfort, it is okay to be patient and wait for tongue problems to clear up on their own. They almost certainly do, unless they are linked to an underlying health problem. You will know if this is the case because the infection or problem will keep coming back. If you are not quite sure how to go about cleaning your tongue, do not be afraid to ask your dental hygienist for a quick demonstration.

They will be able to tell you how much force to apply, which bits need the most attention, and how to tell if an infection is starting. The good news is that, for such a valuable organ, the tongue is fairly simple to get to grips with. The next section will give you some practical tips and tricks for brushing and scraping. Keep up a consistent dental routine if you want to avoid halitosis and maintain a winning smile.

Understanding Why and How to Brush

If you are not sure if you have bad breath, there is a simple test that you can perform. Give the inside of your wrist a little lick. Leave the saliva to dry for a second or two and then sniff the moist patch of skin. If the smell is unpleasant, you probably need to brush your teeth and your tongue. It does not necessarily mean that you have a problem with halitosis, because the smell would have to be persistent. If you are concerned, repeat the trick throughout the day.

Now, the next bit is a little unpleasant, but it does get easier. You need to take your brush or scraper and reach back to the rear portion of your tongue. This is called the posterior and it is where the largest volumes of dirt and bacteria accumulate. The problem with cleaning this area is that gag reflex quickly comes into play for most people. It can feel very disconcerting at first, but if you stay calm and relax your body, it will feel less odd.

The posterior segment of the tongue is where all of the odours build up, so you really do need to tend to if you have concerns about bad breath. In comparison, you should find the tip a lot cleaner. This is the anterior segment and it has its own cleaning mechanisms. As this portion of the tongue is constantly coming into contact with the teeth (during eating, swallowing, talking), it stays relatively clean and bacteria free.

Hint and Tips for a Clean Mouth

As described, you can either scrape or brush your tongue. Both of these methods are effective. Scraping is probably a little easier just because the tool has been specially designed for the job. Start with the back of the tongue, where you can see the most dirt (this will take the form of a thin yellow coating). If you get rid of this film, you eradicate most of the bacteria responsible for bad breath.

Be careful not to reach too far back, because you could damage your throat. If you apply too much pressure, you could irritate the surface of the tongue and even cause bleeding. This is a gentle job, so take your time and be delicate. You should only have to apply the smallest amount of force to remove dirt. For those with a very strong gag reflex, a scraper is always going to be easier to use than a toothbrush.

You are advised to clean your tongue once per day. You can do it every time that you brush your teeth, but no more than this. Once you get into the habit of carrying out a full and thorough oral clean, it won’t feel right to brush your teeth without a little bit of focus on the tongue. Thus far, nobody has really been able to prove which tool is more effective – the scraper of the brush – so don’t worry about your choice of equipment as long as it is kept clean.

A Little Extra Information

It is okay to add a little bit of toothpaste if you feel like this will make a difference to overall cleanliness. At the very least, it makes your breath smell minty fresh. If you do have chronic problems with halitosis, head to your local pharmacy and look for a specialist mouthwash. These super strong formulas should be tough enough to deal with the problem quickly. Or, consult your dental expert for advice. If you have recently changed your diet, this could also be one of the reasons for an unexpected bout of bad breath.

If you would prefer to use a scraper, but are not quite sure what to look for, ask for help at the pharmacy. They come in all kinds of shapes and sizes but most resemble a curved shaving razor, without the blades. They have a rounded head, filled with segmented ridges that are designed to scrape gently along the tongue as you draw it over the surface. They are very cheap to buy and should be replaced every few months.

If you try all of these techniques and bad breath continues to plague you, there could be an underlying dental issue. Consult your dentist as soon as possible, so that your teeth can be examined for hidden cavities and decay. If damage is found, you may have to undergo a treatment. The upside is that the procedure will likely fix your halitosis for good, just as long as you keep your teeth nice and clean after the extraction, root canal, or other treatment.


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