Almost everyone brushes their teeth, but fewer people clean their tongue. Should you brush your tongue when you brush your teeth?
While most people understand the importance of brushing their teeth and flossing on a daily basis, not everyone engages in the practice of tongue brushing. Tongue brushing takes only an additional minute or so of work, yet few people take the time to do it. How important is it to brush your tongue when you brush and floss?
When you brush your teeth after a meal, you’re using your toothbrush to dislodge plaque that’s formed on the surfaces of your teeth and along the gum line. Plaque formation occurs when you eat a meal and food sticks to the rough surfaces of the teeth. When bacteria break down these food particles, the result is plaque which can lead to dental caries and gum disease.
Unlike the rough surfaces of teeth where food can readily stick and lodge between teeth and along the gum line, the anterior portion of the tongue is a smooth surface bathed in saliva which protects it from accumulation of food particles and bacteria. So for dental health, it isn’t necessary to brush your tongue every time you clean your teeth. Brushing your tongue should have little effect on your risk of developing cavities or gum disease.
Although you may not need to clean your tongue to protect your teeth or gums, it may be helpful if you’re concerned about bad breath. Although the anterior tongue isn’t generally a breeding ground for bacteria due to its self cleaning ability, the posterior portion of the tongue. which experiences less self cleaning action, may be a source for bacteria that can cause bad breath. For this reason if you brush your tongue, your efforts should be concentrated on the posterior portion of the tongue.
Cleaning the tongue using a toothbrush, especially the posterior aspect of the tongue, may increase your risk of gagging. Sometimes the tendency to gag can be offset by using a tongue scraper instead. These can be purchased online and in some drugstores and can make the task of cleaning the tongue easier and more effective. It usually takes several passes with the tongue scraper to do a thorough job of brushing your tongue. It should never be done with force for risk of abrading the delicate tongue surface. Combining this with a mouthwash that neutralizes sulfur producing bacteria can eliminate breath odor in some people, particularly is the posterior portion of the tongue is thoroughly cleaned on a regular basis.
The bottom line? If you’re concerned about bad breath, it’s a good idea to clean your tongue, particularly the posterior portion near the back of the mouth. If you’re only performing a routine teeth cleaning, brushing your tongue won’t add any additional protection against cavities or gum disease.