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What do you know about that wondrous muscle in your mouth, the tongue? This muscle works hard for you every day, it helps you to speak, eat, taste, and kiss! Along with your teeth and gums, your tongue is an integral part of your oral health.

What is the tongue?

The tongue is normally about four inches long and consists of two parts; the front is called the anterior part, which is the part you can see when you look in the mirror and stick out your tongue. The back, or posterior, hangs around by the throat. The tongue is also known as a muscular hydrostat, because it doesn’t require the skeleton to work, similar to how octopus arms work.

Once your teeth chew your food, your tongue transfers it, sending it down your throat for your stomach to process. Your tip of your tongue, or the apex, can reach the top of your mouth because it isn’t attached to the floor of the mouth, like the frenulum (the fold attaching the tongue to the floor of the mouth).

What about the taste buds?

With anywhere from 3,000 to 10,000 taste buds living on the papillae–or bumps on your tongue–this part of your tongue allows you to taste your food. There are five “tastes” which the tongue can detect; sweet, sour, bitter, savory and salty. Not only that, but your taste buds work with saliva, which moistens your food. Your buds can’t recognize flavors when dry.

How does the tongue affect your breath?

Nearly 60 million people in the United States suffer with a condition known as halitosis, or bad breath. This condition develops when bacteria builds up on the tongue. To avoid this, stay well-hydrated and keep your tongue clean.

What about color?

The top of your tongue should be pink and bumpy, and the underside, purple and smooth. The bottom of the tongue is purple because of blood vessels. Your tongue color can actually indicate health issues:

Pink: a healthy tongue.
White: fungal infection.
Yellow: fever or stomach problem.
Smooth tongue (no bumps on the top): deficiency in iron, folic acid or vitamin B12.
Darker than normal tongue, or hairy tongue: food staining, bacteria or tobacco usage.

How do you clean the tongue?

An easy way to clean your tongue for good oral health is to use a tongue scraper. It is gentle on the tongue surface and doesn’t set off the gag reflex. Wipe gently from back to front, and don’t forget your sides. If you don’t want to buy a tongue scraper, you can use a soft-bristled toothbrush and use light, gentle strokes towards the front of the tongue. Toothpaste neutralizes and removes bacteria which may also help. Because of the way toothbrushes are constructed, they often tigger the gag reflex, and they can be harsh on the tongue.

At the dental office of Dr. Philippe Athuil, we are to help you take care of your oral health needs. We can be reached for questions or concerns by calling us at 310-286-2241.