For many reasons, oral health has been acknowledged as an essential part of general health. Some factors can make people more susceptible to oral disease, including genetics. For example, genetic makeup can dictate the levels of certain bacteria in the mouth.
Some of these bacteria create a higher risk for oral problems. Although proper oral hygiene habits (brushing, use of mouthwash, flossing, tongue cleaning) greatly affect the potential to minimize cavities and periodontal (gum) disease, dietary factors also play a significant part.
One of the reasons your dentist and hygienist cautions about sugar intake is because it alters the acidity in the mouth. While eating or drinking trigger a flow of acid via saliva, this acid can be rather potent.
When sugar is a component, the breakdown goes to a more challenging level. Like many people, I have a “sweet tooth.” I’m drawn to sugary treats. My sons are more likely to go for sour foods. They love dill pickles or anything lemon flavored.
Of course, it’s not a sweet TOOTH that triggers our preference of sweet foods and drinks. A lot of it has to do with the reaction of the tongue. Dietary preferences are influenced by in taste perceptions. There are specific gene receptors for sweet and bitter taste.
Although the pathways are complex, our propensity to select sweet over sour or vice versa has to do with a number of influential factors. For example, one study notes that the level of oral hygiene seems to influence one or the other.
Further, the mouth can also separate what is truly sweet versus artifically-sweetened. One study explained that there are two sweet-sensing pathways in the mouth. One of these detects ‘authentic’ sweet while the other detects sugar that can be converted into energy.
The pathways have been found to separate the more usable sweet receptor in taste buds, which is sensitive to sweetness but not calories. This may explain why a sugared cola tends to be far more satisfying than a diet cola.
Simply stated, the tongue can identify a sweet taste of those that can convert into energy-producing calories (cane sugar or high fructose corn syrup) andthose that cannot, such as Sucralose.
That being said, there is no doubt that the tongue sends signals to the brain. Although the nerves inside teeth grab our attention (such as heat or cold in an area of gum recession), the tongue serves our overall health in many ways. Yet, it fails to get due acknowledgment for its service.
Let’s think about the tongue for a minute… The tongue is a muscle that is almost continually in motion. It is one of the top 5 strongest muscles in the body. The tongue is our source of taste and a vital part of eating. It helps to move food around as we chew and aids in swallowing. It is also a major player in pronunciation.
The tiny, bumpy protrusions on the tongue’s surface are papillae. Papillae are our source of taste and also sense touch, allowing for feeling the form and texture of food. When it comes to taste, different areas of the tongue are more sensitive to certain tastes.
For example, the tip of the tongue detects sweet to the greatest extent while the sides detect sour. Saliva and food residue can get stuck in the grooves between the papillae, especially on the last third of the tongue.
This can create areas for bacterial growth. As bacteria accumulate, a whitish film coats the tongue, which leads to bad breath. Keeping bacteria in the mouth to manageable levels is greatly supported by saliva flow.
When it comes to saliva, the tongue is also part of the process. The tongue’s underside covers two salivary glands of the lower jaw (submandibular glands). These ducts are located where the tongue meets the floor of the mouth.
A dry mouth provides a breeding ground for bacteria reproduction. Smoking, alcohol consumption, caffeinated foods/beverages, and many medications are all challenging to the salivary glands’ ability to function efficiently.
When you consider the amount of bacteria embedded in the tongue’s surface, it is clearly a significant source of having a bacteria overload in the mouth. Because the tongue’s surface color can indicate too much bacteria, it’s advised to note its appearance during your daily oral hygiene routine.
To control oral bacteria levels in the mouth, it is recommended to brush the tongue using the toothbrush after brushing teeth. This will help to uproot a tremendous number of bacteria.
Be sure to brush towards the back of the tongue as well as the front and side. It is toward the back of the tongue where most bacteria exist, made more obvious by the whiter color and smoother surface. Don’t worry about going too far – your gag reflex will let you know (another service your tongue provides)!
Some toothbrushes have a tongue scraper surface on the back side of the bristles. There are also tongue scrapers available for purchase. These are flexible strips that should be used to scrape from back to front 3 or more times after brushing. Rinse the scraper after each pass.
For added oral bacteria control, consider adding an oral rinse to your twice-daily oral hygiene regimen. Having low bacteria levels in the mouth will help keep breath fresh and reduce your risk of developing cavities and gum disease.
When it comes to the tongue, remember its role to your oral and overall health. Keep the mouth moist and its surface clean and your reward will be fresher breath and less risk for cavities and gum disease. Our Shelby Twp dental office offers complete dental services for adolescents and adults, including dental implants (all stages of treatment), general and cosmetic dentistry.
Call 586-739-2155 or tap here to request a free consultation. During this time, we will discuss your preferences in tooth replacement. If dental fear prevents you from having regular dental check-ups and cleanings, I’ll explain our comfort options, including Oral and I.V. sedation (sleep dentistry).