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Wait, Should I Be Brushing My Tongue?

Your teeth get all the attention, but your tongue needs some love, too

Some would say you’re a master tooth brusher. You’ve been keeping your chompers clean for decades, and you pride yourself on their impressive sheen. But as the years go by, you’re becoming increasingly concerned about the slithering snake in your mouth. Does it deserve the same amount of care and attention your teeth do? Should you brush your tongue, too? 

In short, hell yeah.

“I always tell my patients that it’s not a bad idea to brush or scrape their tongue as part of their daily oral-care routine,” says dentist Genaro Romo, spokesperson for the American Dental Association. “Many patients tell me that this makes their mouth feel cleaner and fresher.”

There are good reasons for the additional cleanliness and freshness. No matter how well you brush your teeth, a buildup of bacteria on your tongue will eventually contribute to tooth decay and periodontal disease. Worse yet, those same tongue germs are a leading cause of bad breath

If that’s not reason enough to brush your mouth serpent, consider this: An absence of tongue brushing can result in a condition called black hairy tongue (no, seriously). It’s caused by a buildup of dead skin cells on your taste buds, and it makes your tongue look like a beaver’s back.

The good news is, all that can be avoided by gently cleaning your tongue with either a toothbrush or tongue scraper whenever you brush your teeth. “As long as they’re not causing any damage to their tongues, I tell my patients to scrape or brush their tongue to the level that they feel is effective,” Romo says. “Should they feel discomfort or bleeding when scraping or brushing their tongue, they should consult with their dentist for tips.”

But if you do it right, you’ll have a very happy tongue.