Clean Thy Tongue


           While many patients do not realize it, it is important to clean your tongue. The most posterior portion of your tongue near its base at the tonsils has, in most cases, a whitish-gray layer harboring millions of bacteria. These bacteria can cause several different problems. The one that you are probably most familiar with is called halitosis or oral malodor and is commonly known as "bad breath". Sulfur compounds released by the bacteria are the major source of halitosis in most patients. Although this is the most obvious problem associated with bacterial accumulations on your tongue, others are also recognized. The bacteria present on your tongue contribute to tooth decay. They may also promote gum disease and studies have shown that if you clean your tongue you will have less bacteria in your mouth generally.


Failure to keep your tongue clean while expecting can contribute to pregnancy tumors like this one.


           It is known that greasy foods with a high fat content significantly increase accumulations on your tongue. The contours of your tongue can also influence how coated it becomes with a fissured tongue more apt to do so than a smooth one. The consistency of your diet has an effect too. Soft foods will leave the bacterial coating on your tongue relatively intact whereas coarser foods will abrade it removing some of the layer.


Tongue scraping is much more effective than brushing.

           Studies have shown that toothbrushes are not as effective in cleansing your tongue as the many specialized implements for this purpose available on the market today. Most tongue cleaners come in the form of strap like bows made of plastic or metal with handles so that the device can be drawn across your tongue to remove the bacterial film. Many brands (Breath Taker/The Mouth Cleaner/Professional Tongue Cleaner) can be found in pharmacies and supermarkets. Cleaning your tongue is a simple process to perform. In front of a mirror, stick your tongue out as far as possible and locate the areas of collection. As noted above, the posterior aspect of your tongue is usually where the most build-up will be found. Attempt to place the tongue cleaner behind this area and then press downward and pull forward slowly so as to apply it to the entire surface of your tongue. Debris will gather on the cleaner and should be rinsed off under a stream of warm water after each pass until no more can be removed from your tongue. The intensity of your gag reflex will limit the extent to which you can reach all areas of accumulation. Trying different positions and angulations of the cleaner on your tongue can lesson this problem with practice.


  Before starting the habit of daily tongue cleaning,
this patient's tongue was coated...      

...after a few weeks of regular tongue cleaning,
it looked like this.

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Dr. Barry F. McArdle, D.M.D. ~ 118 Maplewood Avenue, The Captain Moses House, Suite B-7, Portsmouth, NH 03801

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