University of Iowa Health Science Relations and
John J. Warren DDS, MS
Associate Professor of Preventive & Community Dentistry
First Published: 2000
Last Revised: December 2004
Peer Review Status: Internally Peer Reviewed
Brushing your teeth is only part of a good oral hygiene program, says a professor at the University of Iowa College of Dentistry.
"Good oral hygiene is important to maintain the health of the teeth and gums, but it is also important to maintain the health of the entire mouth," says Dr. John Warren, an associate professor in the UI College of Dentistry. "In addition to brushing the teeth at least twice a day with fluoride toothpaste and flossing on a regular basis, it is also important to clean other areas of the mouth, particularly the tongue."
The tongue's rough and porous surface can harbor plaque-causing
bacteria, Warren notes. Plaque is a bacterial film that forms when food
particles collect on teeth, promoting tooth decay and gum disease. "If the tongue isn't cleaned regularly and continues to harbor these bacteria, it can serve as a reservoir and re-seed the teeth and gums with bacteria," he says.
Not only do the bacteria coating the tongue contribute to plaque formation, they also can cause odor, resulting in halitosis (bad breath), Warren says.
The solution to these problems is brushing your tongue with a soft-bristled toothbrush in good condition, "at least a couple of times a week," Warren says.
An alternative to brushing the tongue is the use of a tongue scraper, which is a hand-held device, usually with serrated edges, designed to remove bacteria from the tongue by drawing them across its surface.
"Tongue scrapers are OK," Warren says, "but they're really no better than a good toothbrush. It's really up to the individual as to how they clean their tongue. The important thing is that they do it on a regular basis."