Bacteria buildup on your tongue can spread to your teeth, causing gingivitis, or red, inflamed gums. If it’s not treated, the inflammation can advance to periodontal disease, when the gums pull away from the teeth and the space in between becomes infected. Your teeth may fall out, but even more worrisome is that the chronic inflammation caused . periodontal disease is linked to a higher risk of heart attack, stroke, and miscarriage, says McClatchie.
Medically known as oral thrush, it can happen when the bacteria levels in your mouth get out of whack—say, from not brushing your tongue—and naturally occurring yeast grows out of control. The result: white patches on the tongue, says McClatchie. An antifungal medication can cure it, and regular tongue brushing should keep it from returning.
We’re not making it up. This condition arises when the papillae on your tongue get stained from leftover food or drink particles, like coffee, and the particles are never brushed away, says Cook. That gives the entire tongue a dark, furry appearance. It’s otherwise harmless, and once you start tongue brushing, it should disappear.
When you don’t brush your tongue, a nasty coating of bacteria, food particles, and dead skin cells called a biofilm can cover up your taste buds, leaving your sense of taste less sharp, says McClatchie. Get rid of the biofilm and your taste buds will get going again.
“Bad breath is the number one problem associated with not brushing your tongue,” says Steve Cook, DDS, owner of Austin City Dental in Austin, Texas. How it happens: The bacteria making a home on your tongue begin doing what an overgrowth of bacteria everywhere do—give off a foul stank. The odor-causing bugs tend to lurk in the back of the tongue, he adds, which is why it’s important to brush back there if you want to get rid of the funk.
. now, you’ll probably want to grab your toothbrush and give your tongue a good scrubbing. >’s the right way to do it: Starting at the back of the tongue, gently brush toward the front, then go side-to-side. You don’t have to use toothpaste, but it’ll probably feel more comfortable, and the abrasiveness of toothpaste can help make cleaning more effective, says McClatchie. Do it at least once a day for a few minutes at a pop, but ideally twice, she adds.
Oh, and you’ve probably heard of tongue scrapers: tools found in the pharmacy dental aisle that are specially designed to remove bacteria, food particles, and other gunk from your tongue. While it’s perfectly fine to use one, all you really need for effective tongue brushing is a plain-old non-tricked-out toothbrush, says Cook.
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