Wellness + Nutrition

The unsung tongue — an important part of a healthy mouth

When you think about oral health, taking good care of your teeth and gums probably comes to mind first. Don’t overlook your tongue! After all, it helps you talk, taste, swallow and chew. It also helps sweep food and debris from your teeth and gums. Here are some ways to keep your tongue in tip-top shape.

The benefits of cleaning your tongue

Because of its rough surface, your tongue is an easy place for bacteria to settle in and thrive. As a result, your tongue is a major source for bacteria in your mouth. Bacteria on your tongue can cause bad breath, tooth decay and gum disease.

To remove as much bacteria as possible, make tongue care part of your regular oral health routine by cleaning your tongue each time you brush your teeth — at least twice a day. Make sure to clean the entire surface of your tongue.

Some studies indicate that a tongue scraper is the most effective tool for cleaning your tongue.1 However, if you don’t have a tongue scraper, you can also easily clean your tongue with a toothbrush and a small amount of toothpaste and then rinse with an anti-bacterial mouthwash to eliminate more bacteria.




When you clean your tongue regularly, you:

•  Lower the amount of bacteria on your tongue

• Cut down on the substance released by bacteria that causes bad breath

•  Reduce plaque on your teeth

•  Eliminate a white-coated appearance caused by bacteria on your tongue

•  Improve your sense of taste

•  Achieve a fresher-feeling mouth

What to look for when examining your tongue

It’s important to do a monthly self-check to detect any possible issues with your tongue, including oral cancer. Although most changes in your tongue are not life threatening, early detection of oral cancer can save your life. Use a mirror and bright light to look for these tongue issues: 

• Lumps or sores that bleed or that don’t go away after two weeks.

• A change from pink coloring to white, red, yellow or black

• White, red or pink patches

• A smooth or glossy appearance

• A tongue that looks hairy

If you notice changes to your tongue or how it moves, any pain, changes or difficulty chewing or swallowing, or changes in your speech, make sure to tell your dentist or physician right away. Even if you don’t have symptoms, schedule regular dental checkups. These checkups are an effective way to catch oral cancer and other tongue issues early on. 

You can help keep your tongue healthy by avoiding oral piercings. A tongue piercing can cause pain, infection, swelling, allergic reactions and loss of taste.