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

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 a more serious health problem, there are multiple reasons cleaning your tongue properly is important to good oral care. Here's what to look for when it comes to the good and bad germs.

Signs of a Healthy Tongue

A good indication of a healthy tongue (and body) is a uniform pink coloring with no deeper red, yellow or white discoloration. But, if you find a white film coating on the topside, Mayo Clinic confirms it shouldn't be a cause for alarm, and is usually temporary. This film is a mix of bacteria, dead cells and food debris, making your tongue appear white as a result. Rest assured proper tooth brushing and flossing can help clear up the problem.

Some Bacteria Is Normal

At any given time, you have about 20 billion bacteria in your mouth, according to a study in RDH Magazine. This currently consists of about 1,000 known types, says Scientific American, and recent research indicates that no one type of mouth bacteria directly accounts for bad breath or an otherwise unhealthy mouth. Rather, a certain mixture of bacteria on your tongue and in your mouth creates a healthy environment. 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 what Scientific American calls "pit crevices of the tongue."

Certain Bad Bacteria Can Create Bad Breath

Likewise, some bacteria have a more negative effect on your oral health than others: There are four types of bacteria that contribute to halitosis, or bad breath. These are known as gram negative "anaerobic bacteria," which form compounds that turn into sulfur byproducts – one of the leading causes of bad breath, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). These bacteria can live anywhere in your mouth, both on your tongue and in plaque. Brushing twice a day, especially on your tongue, can greatly help to reduce this odorous effect.

When You Should Act

In addition to examining the health of your teeth during a dental checkup, your dentist will normally look for spots of discoloration that could be problematic – and an early warning sign that your tongue bacteria indicates a larger health concern. Leukoplakia, for instance, can develop into oral cancer and appear as a white patch on your tongue. Mayo Clinic also advises seeing your dentist if any discoloration, which can unfortunately include hair growth, continues over a period of days.

Cleaning Your Tongue to Remove the Bad

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

  • 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, as well. Incorporate the one on the back of your Colgate® 360°® Total® Floss-Tip Toothbrush with Tongue Cleaner into your daily oral care.
  • Talk to your dentist about the best oral rinses for your condition. Many mouthrinses cut almost all bacteria, ridding you of both the good and bad.
  • Brush and floss for two minutes twice a day to ensure plaque doesn't harden into tartar, which can't be removed by yourself. Consistently brushing your teeth cuts down on this plaque and bacteria buildup, 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 the best care, pay attention to every area of soft tissue, and you won't notice a smell you can't get rid of.

This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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