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Tongue Bacteria: Know What's Healthy (And What's Not)

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Medically Reviewed By Colgate Global Scientific Communications

Have you ever noticed a white film on your tongue? However unpleasant it is to think about, everyone has tongue bacteria. There are several kinds, some more harmful than others in certain situations, but most of them can result in poor oral hygiene. From bad breath to more serious health problems, cleaning your tongue is essential to good oral care. Here's what to look for when it comes to good and bad germs.

Signs of a Healthy Tongue

A good indication of a healthy tongue (and body) is a uniform pink colouring with no deeper red, yellow or white discoloration. But, if you find a white film coating on the topside, it shouldn't be a cause for alarm; it's usually temporary. This film is a mix of bacteria, dead cells, and food debris. Rest assured, proper toothbrushing and flossing can help clear up the problem.

Some Bacteria Is Normal

You have about 20 billion bacteria in your mouth at any given time. For the most part, your tongue and mouth are comprised of "gram-positive" and "gram-negative" bacteria. Gram-positive bacteria are found in plaque, whereas gram-negative bacteria, the more "odorous" of the two, are found in "pit crevices of the tongue."

Certain Bad Bacteria Can Create Bad Breath

Some bacteria have a more negative effect on your oral health than others: Four types of bacteria contribute to halitosis or bad breath. These are known as gram-negative "anaerobic bacteria," which form compounds that turn into sulphur byproducts—one of the leading causes of bad breath. These bacteria can live anywhere in your mouth, both on your tongue and in plaque. Brushing twice a day, especially on your tongue, can significantly help to reduce this odorous effect.

When You Should Act

In addition to examining the health of your teeth during a dental check-up, your dentist will typically look for spots of discoloration that could be problematic – and an early warning sign that your tongue bacteria indicates a larger health concern. Leucoplakia, for instance, can develop into oral cancer and appear as a white patch on your tongue. Visit your dental professional if any discoloration, which can also include hair growth, continues for a few days.

Cleaning Your Tongue to Remove the Bad

In addition to brushing twice daily, follow these guidelines to ensure you're cleaning your tongue correctly:

  • Gently brush the surface of your tongue, starting from the back and working your way to the front.
  • Tongue cleaners can help curb bad breath.
  • Talk to a dental professional about the best oral rinses for your condition.
  • Brush and floss for two minutes twice a day to ensure plaque doesn't harden into tartar. Consistently brushing your teeth cuts down on plaque and bacteria build-up, keeping your whole mouth healthy.

When it comes to proper oral care and cleaning, don't let your focus on teeth come at the cost of the rest of your mouth. For best care, pay attention to every area of your mouth, including your teeth, gums, and tongue.