November 16, 2021
The appearance of plaque forming on the tongue can be alarming. It often comes in the form of white, filmy patches and can get thicker and harder if it does not slough off. The condition is not usually considered a major health concern, and most patients can reverse the effects with proper oral hygiene. That said, some bacteria are more harmful than others and sometimes plaque formation on the tongue can indicate a more serious problem. Here is what you need to know about getting rid of plaque on the tongue.
Why is the tongue so important?
The tongue is the main organ inside the mouth. It makes it possible to taste, swallow, eat, speak, and whistle. And though most people use the tongue constantly every day, rarely do they give it a second thought unless something goes wrong.
Signs of a healthy tongue
A patient has approximately 20 billion bacteria in the mouth at any given time. For the most part, these bacteria are good and help break down and process food particles. But some bacteria have a more negative impact on oral health and cause foul odors, inflammation, and decay. A healthy tongue is usually pink and uniform in color and texture. Any sign of white, yellow, or deeper red discoloration may be cause for concern.
What causes plaque on the tongue?
White, filmy plaque on the tongue is likely caused by one of three things. The most common cause is poor dental hygiene. Brushing and flossing help eliminate bacteria and food particles trapped between teeth and along the gum line. But many people forget they also need to remove these harmful particles from the surface of their tongue. This lack of attention often leads to white tongue and other conditions. Other causes of plaque formation are lifestyle choices like smoking and alcohol consumption. These can cause dehydration and contribute to the growth of plaque and tar inside the mouth. Lastly, some medical conditions like dry mouth, sinusitis, and postnasal drip can also cause bad breath and white coatings on the tongue.
How do I clean my tongue?
There are two ways patients can clean the tongue: brushing and scraping. Most patients simply use their toothbrushes as a way to clean their tongue. After brushing their teeth, patients should spit out excess toothpaste and use the toothbrush and residual toothpaste to clean the inside of the cheeks and the roof of the mouth along with the tongue. They should softly brush from back to tip for an all-around clean. Patients can also use a tongue scraper for a different or an additional cleaning method. These devices are designed to glide across the surface of the tongue, scraping away the layer of mucus that often traps debris and bacteria. The most effective way to use a tongue scraper is to stick out the tongue and start at the back, scraping with even pressure all the way to the front. Then rinse the scraper and repeat until the entire top surface has been scrapped. This way patients do not ingest the bacteria they are trying to remove. It is also beneficial to drink lots of water and eat a well-balanced diet with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables.
When should I be concerned?
Usually, a white tongue is not something to worry about. With proper cleaning, the symptoms should subside. If plaque continues to go unchecked it could result in periodontal disease, tonsil infection, gastrointestinal problems, or fungal growth. On rare occasions, the white film on the tongue could indicate a more serious health problem like infection or early cancer. Patients should contact their doctor if the tongue is painful or feels like it is burning, there are other open sores in the mouth, or they develop additional symptoms like fever, rash, or unexpected weight loss.