Brushing your teeth is something you do day in and day out without giving it a second thought. It’s a task that was engrained in us as small children. We know we’re supposed to take care of our teeth. We brush. We floss. But that’s not where our routine should end.

Oral care goes far beyond keeping your teeth sparkling clean and avoiding cavities.

In order to thoroughly rid your mouth of harmful bacteria and the bad breath that’s caused by that bacteria, you HAVE TO clean your tongue.

There’s no easy way to put it. Everything you eat or drink leaves residue on your tongue. Have you ever wondered why you can smell cigarettes on someone’s breath long after they’ve smoked or how you can pick a coffee drinker in a crowd? The answer is simple. Your tongue is a magnet for bacteria. Residue like the brown color in our morning coffee or the red wine you drank last night stays with you. That residue wreaks all kinds of havoc in your mouth, not just limited to cavities.

Bacteria burrows into your mouth, coats the tongue, makes itself at home on your taste buds, and the accompanying tongue structures. You might not be able to see it, but it’s there, potentially doing major damage. Your tongue (and mouth) are the perfect breeding grounds for infection and bacteria. Think back to your high school biology class. Chances are you’ll remember that bacteria grows in warm temperatures and wet surfaces only complicate matters. Your mouth is warm and wet. The setting is ideal.

Now, if you think that a quick rinse with your favorite antiseptic wash will do the trick and rid your mouth of bacteria, you’re wrong. The bacteria builds up at lightning speed. On the surface, it might look like a harmless film of saliva, but when you take a peek of that saliva under a microscope or with a trained eye, it will be evident that the surface of the tongue is covered with bacteria, even after using commercial mouthwash.

This bacterium is difficult to kill with simple rinses. The longer it’s allowed to fester, it increases the chances of damaging the teeth or causing a foul odor in your mouth. No one wants either one of those outcomes. You must physically remove the bacteria before it has time to do irreparable damage.

The steps to cleaning your tongue couldn’t be any simpler, and won’t add any time to your normal oral care routine.
  1. First, you brush back and forth on your tongue. Give it a good brushing. Then, brush from side to side a few times.
  2. Finally, rinse your mouth with whichever antiseptic mouthwash you prefer.
  3. Most importantly, don’t overbrush. You don’t want to run the risk of breaking the skin and creating a new breeding ground for infection.
  4. Brushing your tongue can save you from embarrassing situations and prevent serious a potentially serious illness. Take the time to do it right every time you brush.

By Katherine Rodriguez, DMD