Tongue-tied: the importance of your tongue for oral health

Most people probably don’t think about their tongue unless they’ve had the misfortune of biting it recently. While your teeth and your gums probably come to mind first when you think about oral health, don’t overlook your tongue! After all, your tongue does more than taste. It helps you talk, swallow and chew. It also helps to clear food and debris away from your teeth and gums. Your tongue takes care of you, but what can you do to take care of it?

The benefits of keeping your tongue clean

Because the surface of your tongue is rough, it’s an easy place for bacteria to settle in and thrive. As a result, your tongue is a major source of bacteria in your mouth. That can contribute to bad breath, tooth decay and gum disease.

You’ll want to make tongue care part of your regular oral health routine by cleaning your tongue each time you brush your teeth. Make sure to get the entire surface of your tongue and not just the tip! A 2019 study found that a plastic tongue scraper is the most effective tool for cleaning your tongue, but if you don’t have one, you can still clean your tongue with your toothbrush and a little bit of toothpaste.




When you clean your tongue regularly, you:

• Lower the amount of bacteria on your tongue

• Cut down on bad breath caused by bacteria

• Reduce the amount of plaque on your teeth

• Eliminate the white, chalky look your tongue can sometimes have (this is a biofilm caused by bacteria)

• Improve your sense of taste (clearing away the biofilm helps your tastebuds do their jobs)

• Get a cleaner and fresher-feeling mouth

While you’re cleaning your tongue…

Examining your tongue regularly can help to detect any possible issues that may arise with your tongue, including oral cancer. Early detection of oral cancer can save your life! Use a mirror and a bright light to look for these issues the next time you brush your teeth:

• A change in the color your tongue from pink to white, red, yellow or black

• White or red patches on the surface of your tongue

• Dark patches on the tongue (these may even look like hair)

• A smooth or glossy appearance on the surface of your tongue

• Sores or lumps on your tongue that don’t go away after two weeks

If you notice any changes in your speech or how your tongue moves, or have pain or difficulty swallowing, tell a dentist or physician right away. You should also schedule regular exams. Exams are an effective way to detect oral cancer and other serious issues early on. By making your tongue part of your oral care routine, you can help ensure a bright and healthy smile. Just watch out that you don’t bite it!

Be careful when considering getting a tongue piercing. Tongue piercings can cause pain, infection, swelling, allergic reactions and a loss of taste.