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Your Tongue: To Brush or Not to Brush?

by | Apr 17, 2018 | Oral Hygiene | 0 comments

You get up in the morning. You brush your teeth (and floss, we hope!). And then this happens:

Yes, by the time you get home from work, your mouth is a mess of biofilm, a/k/a plaque. For bacteria are social critters. They learn to work together and protect each other by exuding a slimy matrix that protects their colony, leaving them free to proliferate.

That grunge your tongue feels on your teeth when they’re dirty? You’re licking microbes and their slime, not to mention a fair amount of their metabolic waste, too.

tongue brushingNow, if that doesn’t motivate you to keep your teeth clean, frankly, we’re not sure what will. But it also raises a pretty common question: When you brush your teeth, do you need to brush your tongue, too?

Surprisingly, the answer appears to be “no.”

While some research has found that tongue brushing and scraping reduces levels of S. mutans in the mouth – one of the main culprits in the decay process – reviews such as this one have generally found little evidence that tongue cleaning makes much of a difference in bacterial load.

And now a new study in the Journal of Periodontal Research lends further support to those findings.

The study involved 18 adult participants with moderate to severe gum disease and some degree of tongue coating but who were otherwise healthy. Each was randomly assigned to scrape or brush their tongue as part of their daily hygiene for two weeks.

At the beginning and end of the study, researchers measured the microbial load of each patient’s saliva and on the top of their tongue, as well as the amount of tongue coating and the patient’s perception of the cleaning.

Neither scraping nor brushing was found to affect microbial counts – even when the amount of tongue coating was significantly less. More,

The patients themselves experienced no differences in breath odour or taste sensation after 2 weeks of tongue cleaning; however, they felt that their tongue was cleaner at the end of the study compared to baseline.

Of course, most people can’t really smell their own breath or tell if their taste sensation is “off.” Studies that use more objective measures have found that tongue brushing is actually effective for improving bad breath.

Though a coated tongue isn’t the sole cause of bad breath, it stands to reason why it could turn your breath sour. After all, that coat is made up of bacteria and their waste products, and may also hold particles of decomposing food.

Suffice it to say, that’s bound to get a little bit stinky – even when your teeth are sparkling clean.

More, a heavily coated tongue can be a sign of digestive issues and even impaired immune function (much of which, we now know, is actually controlled by the gut). If the coating is white and sensitive to cleaning, there’s reason to suspect an overgrowth of the fungus Candida albicans. Notably, research has shown that Candida works in tandem with S. mutans to create stronger, more impervious biofilms on your teeth, raising your risk of tooth decay.

The overgrowth itself can lead to symptoms like chronic fatigue and brain fog, sinus infections, food allergies, and joint pain, as well as those digestive and immune issues we mentioned.

The good news is that, often, Candida can be controlled through a combination of diet, stress management, and detox. You’ll find some good tips here and here. (Aside: Mercury fillings can also predispose you to Candida overgrowth, too – yet another reason to ditch them.)

Originally posted 2017-11-02 07:01:06.