"...And While You're in There, Don't
Forget to Brush Your Tongue"
By Sheila Wolf, RDH
Believe it or not, your tongue is a source
of many mouth odors and even halitosis, or "chronic bad breath."
Don't believe me? Let's perform a quick experiment, one I've
used with thousands of amazed patients in my chair over the
years. Stick out your tongue right now. Now put it back in,
go to a mirror and stick it out again. Notice the layer of
film on your tongue. If you have never brushed your tongue,
and chances are many of you haven't, the coating will tend
to be quite heavy.
The thicker the layer,
the longer it has been there and the more severe or chronic
the malodor problem. Because the tongue contains tiny nooks
and crannies like our taste buds, there are plenty of ideal
places for the anaerobic bacteria (the bacteria that live
without air) to hide out. There they produce Volatile Sulfur
Compounds (VSCs) from the foods we eat, from bacterial waste
products and from the natural process of skin cells that are
sloughed off in the course of daily living. Some of these
smells are familiar, like rotten eggs or something decaying;
much like the smell of that forgotten meatloaf decomposing
on the back shelf of the refrigerator.
Everything that goes into
your mouth - meatloaf, tuna fish, popcorn, diet soda, corn
chips, cough drops, chili, and coffee - passes over your tongue.
The irregular terrain of this organ of speech and digestion
creates a very fertile breeding ground for the anaerobes to
do their thing. If the tongue is not regularly cleaned and
oxygenated, the VSCs cause "stinky breath." According to current
research, it appears that over 80% of all mouth odors come
from the back surface of the tongue.
You ask, "What can
I do?" Basically, it is very simple.
You must reduce the anaerobic
bacteria in your mouth: between your teeth, under your gums,
and especially on the back surface of your tongue. Every time
you brush your teeth, think about your tongue.
Brush your tongue at least once a day thoroughly.
There are special tools called tongue scrapers
sold in most department stores or pharmacies, such as your
local Wal-Mart. Like your toothbrush, experiment with various
brands and models of tongue scrapers, until you find the right
fit. Then use a gentle scraping action from back to front,
being careful not to go too far back, as you will invoke your
gag reflex. Go back as far as comfortable and scrape or brush
firmly but never cause your tongue to bleed.
I personally like to use a soft toothbrush to
cleanse my tongue. Others I have treated have used a small
spoon, a dull knife, a tongue depressor, or even a Popsicle
stick! You can be creative with your homemade tongue scraper,
as long as you remember to be gentle. The important thing
is to "just do it!"
If your tongue is clean, you will enjoy a mouth
that feels cleaner, tastes sweeter, and is definitely fresher
than ever before. How about a kiss?
Sheila Wolf, RDH, affectionately called Mama Gums, has been a registered dental hygienist since 1971. She is currently retired from clinical practice but enjoys writing, speaking, and consulting on various oral health issues. She has authored two award-winning books, Pregnancy and Oral Health: The critical connection between your mouth and your baby, and Your Mouth Could Be KILLING You. Both are available on her website, http://www.mamagums.com/about_book.html, through Amazon, and at finer bookstores everywhere. Sheila also works with people privately as an oral wellness coach, educating and empowering people to keep their natural teeth for a lifetime, avoid gum surgery, and just possibly add years to their lives. You may reach Sheila through her website, www.mamagums.com or in San Diego at 866-MAMA-GUMs.
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