The tongue is a truly fascinating muscle. It allows us to speak, helps in the digestion process, and makes kissing much more fun. But what is the tongue, how does it work, and how do we properly take care of it?
What is it made of? The tongue is a group of muscles that sits on the floor of the mouth. In humans, there are two parts to the tongue: the front and the back. The front of the tongue is the visible part and makes up over half of the tongue’s overall length; the back part is near the throat and connected to it via muscles and membranes. There are eight total muscles that make up the tongue: four internal and four external. The internal muscles control the shape of the tongue, while the external muscles control tongue movement. What purpose does it serve? Apart from kissing, the tongue helps us to taste, speak, and clean. Tasting: The tongue is loaded down with taste receptors. These receptors react to food particles mixed with the natural chemicals in our mouths. When we eat, chemicals in our mouths begin to dissolve food. As the food dissolves, particles of these foods interact with the taste receptors on our tongues, which then send signals to our brains letting us know how the food tastes. There are five different types of taste receptors on the human tongue: sweet, bitter, salty, sour, and umami. The last one—umami—is a relatively difficult taste to understand. It was discovered in the 1900s and is found in savory foods like tomatoes and meats. The discoverer—a Japanese scientist—was looking for a word to describe the savory aspects of seaweed commonly found in Japanese cuisine. Cleaning: The tongue is used as a tooth-cleaning device. When we rub our tongues against our teeth we create friction which helps to remove and prevent the build-up of germs. This also spreads the natural bacteria-fighting chemicals in our mouths and helps to prevent decay. Speaking: The same muscles that help to clean your teeth are the same muscles that help us form words. Because the tongue moves and changes shape, we are able to form words. Tips for Maintaining Your Tongue Keeping your tongue clean and healthy is important to your oral health. By spending a few extra minutes taking care of your tongue, you may see a marked improvement in the quality of your breath. Here are a few ways to improve and maintain proper tongue health. Tongue Scrapers: Without proper care, a tongue can grow white. This white discolouration is often caused by a build-up of fungi or bacteria. This build-up has a quick and easy fix. A tongue scraper eradicates this growth by being dragged across it. To use a tongue scraper, place the clean instrument at the back of the tongue and slowly drag it forward. As the scraper moves forward, it will take the excess of fungi and bacteria with it. To make sure the tongue is completely free of the build-up, repeat the process for all the areas on the surface of the tongue. Brush Your Tongue: If you don’t have a tongue scraper, you can use your toothbrush. Apply a small amount of toothpaste on the brush and use it to lather your tongue. The cleaning agents in the toothpaste will be able to penetrate into the cracks and grooves of your tongue, thus providing a deeper clean. Leave the toothpaste on your tongue for as long as you can stand it. Aim for between a minute and 90 seconds. Once the time is up, spit. If you have any remaining toothpaste, you can use your toothbrush to remove it from your tongue. Make sure to thoroughly wash your toothbrush after scrubbing. This will help to remove any fungi or bacteria left on your brush after scrubbing. Use Mouthwash: A tongue scraper or a hearty tongue brushing won’t always get rid of the bacteria that cause bad breath. The last step in your tongue beautification process should be to use mouthwash. Choose an anti-bacterial mouthwash that isn’t too strong. Since you have just scrubbed your tongue, it will be more sensitive to a stronger mouthwash. Make sure to swish the cleaning solution around your mouth for at least 30 seconds. This will make sure it reaches all your problem areas. Once the time is up, spit and rinse your mouth with water. Repeat: The most important thing to keep in mind when it comes to oral hygiene and the health of your tongue is consistency. Just like you wouldn’t brush your teeth only once a week, you should show your tongue some love more often too. The reason bacteria and fungi are able to accumulate on the tongue and in other parts of the mouth is because we forget to service these areas. As we disregard their health, these harmful organisms move in. If you are constantly vigilant in maintaining the health of your tongue, your breath will stay fresher longer. Knowing the way your tongue functions and how to take care of it will help you avoid sickness and bad breath.