When thinking about oral health we almost always think about the teeth and gums, but another huge component of oral health is the tongue. This great muscle is responsible for some of our most essential functions; swallowing, tasting and talking.
Why is it important to keep your tongue healthy?
Maintaining a healthy tongue is just as important as maintaining healthy teeth and gums.
Build-up on the tongue that appears white is an indication that there is a significant layer of build-up on the surface of the tongue. A white tongue, particularly one that appears to have grooves through it, can be a breeding ground for bacteria. A build-up of bacteria can cause bad breath. The bacteria can also contribute to tooth decay and gum disease.
Illnesses of the tongue
Poor hygiene, as well as certain illnesses, can contribute to noticeable changes in tongue health. Here are a few illnesses that can occur within the tongue:
Thrush– This is a yeast infection that occurs within the mouth. The infection occurs frequently in babies, however older adults and those with weakened immune systems, or those who take certain medications can also develop this condition. This illness commonly manifests as creamy white, raised lesions on the tongue, inner cheek, gums, tonsils or back of the throat. Left unchecked, the lesions can spread to the esophagus causing problems with swallowing and fever.
Leukoplakia– These white patches occur as an overgrowth of cells on the tongue. These patches generally occur in mouths of those who smoke tobacco products, as the smoke irritates the mouth. Leukoplakia can be a precursor for cancer, so it is important to have these areas checked at your next dental visit.
Red tongue– There are several possible causes of a tongue that appears red or may even have red spots. Vitamin deficiencies of b-12 or folic acid are known to cause the tongue to appear red. A “geographic tongue where red spots form on the tongue can also make the tongue red, scarlet fever can also cause the tongue to be red.
Sore or bumpy tongue– Most commonly we experience bumpy or sore tongues from accidental biting or tooth grinding. For symptoms that last for an extended period it is important to have your dentist examine the area.
Black, furry tongue– A tongue that appears black and “furry” has an extreme build-up of bacteria or yeast atop the papillae (taste buds). Many times this condition is commonly caused by poor oral hygiene, but can also be caused by tobacco smoking, taking certain antibiotics, full body radiation treatment, drug use and HIV.
How to keep the tongue healthy
Tongue scraping can help clean off bacteria and build up off of the surface of the tongue. A tongue scraper can be purchased inexpensively at a pharmacy, and is used to gently scrape away build up. Be sure to rinse properly after scraping, to remove the bacteria from the mouth.
Because the tongue is a muscle, it can also be beneficial to eat a diet that is rich in vitamins and minerals that help fortify muscles, as well as foods that help fight bacteria. Muscles thrive on iron rich foods such as spinach and leafy greens, red meat, poultry and seafood. There are several foods that have notable anti-microbial properties when consumed, foods including chopped onions, shiitake mushrooms, garlic, coconuts and ginger.
The best way to ensure that your oral health is kept in check is to brush and floss daily, use a tongue scraper daily and visit the dentist every six months for professional exams and cleanings.