What Makes the Tongue Tick?

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Your tongue is as vital to your oral health as your teeth, gums and jaw. What do you know about this muscle that works hard for you every day, helping you to talk, eat, taste and even kiss? Here are some things to help you understand this part of your anatomy.

What is the tongue?

Approximately four-inches long, this muscle has two parts. The front, or anterior, is the part you see when you look in the mirror and wiggle your tongue. The back, or posterior, sits near the throat. The tongue is a muscular hydrostat, which means it doesn’t require the skeleton to work. Once your teeth chew your food, your tongue takes it and transfers it, sending it down your throat to your stomach. The tip of your tongue, or 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?
Did you know that 3,000 to 10,000 taste buds live on the papillae, or bumps on your tongue? This is the part of your tongue that which makes it so you can taste your food. The “tastes” which the tongue can detect are sweet, sour, bitter, savory and salty. Your taste buds can’t detect these “flavors” without the help of your saliva. If the mouth is dry, your tongue can’t recognize flavors!

Tongue Color
A healthy tongue is pink and bumpy on the top and purple and smooth underneath. The bottom of the tongue is purple thanks to the blood vessels you can see if you look closely at the underside.

The color of your tongue can tell you things about your health. While a pink tongue is healthy, a white tongue coating indicates a possible fungal infection. If it is yellow, it could indicate a fever or stomach problem. If there are no bumps on the top of your tongue you may have an iron, folic acid or vitamin B12 deficiency. You can also have a darker than normal tongue, or hairy tongue caused by food staining, bacteria or tobacco usage.

How to clean the tongue
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.

To clean your tongue is simple and easy. One option is to use a tongue scraper. This is good because a tongue scraper is gentle on the tongue surface and doesn’t set off your gag reflex, like a toothbrush can. Stroke the top and sides gently from back to front. A second option is using a soft-bristled toothbrush with gentle strokes towards the front of the tongue. Toothpaste can be used to help neutralize and remove bacteria, and be sure to brush lightly because you don’t want to hurt the tongue’s surface.

Please call our caring staff at Family & Implant Dentistry at 785-539-5949 if you have any questions or concerns!