You know your tongue helps you taste, eat, and talk, but these 6 fun facts just might surprise you (and #4 may gross you out!)
Without our tongues, life would be quite a hassle.
We wouldn’t be able to hold a conversation with each other…
We wouldn’t be able to eat or swallow properly…
But worst of all, we wouldn’t be able to taste our food.
The thought alone is enough to make you shiver!
But luckily, these lingual masterpieces of biology are right where they’re supposed to be. And as it turns out, there’s a whole lot more to them than their primary functions.
Today, we’re bringing you a fun and informative article filled with little-known facts about one of the most important organs of the human body. Follow along as we share six things you didn’t know about your tongue!
1. Your tongue is just as vulnerable to bacteria as your teeth
While it’s not at risk of developing tooth decay, your tongue is still exposed to the same amount and types of bacteria as your teeth.
And as you’ve likely noticed by now, it’s not smooth; there are little bumps and grooves all over it.
Well, those bumps are called papillae, and the way they’re shaped and arranged on the surface of your tongue creates the perfect hangout spot for food debris and oral bacteria.
Without proper care, that bacteria can encourage the development of dental plaque, potentially leading to tooth decay and gum disease.
But that’s where your daily dental care habits come in. You’ve probably already heard that it’s essential to brush your tongue every time you brush your teeth.
Now you know why. Tongue health is essential to dental health!
2. Got bad breath? Tongue scraping isn’t any better than brushing
With the world chewing through an estimated 560,000 tons of gum per year, we humans are no strangers to the battle against bad breath…(and that’s not even counting mint sales!)
But many people are under the impression that since much of the “bad breath” bacteria sits on the tongue, tongue scrapers can provide a better defense than traditional tongue brushing.
The scientific community tends to disagree, however.
There’s a term for the types of bacteria that cause bad breath: volatile sulfur compounds, or VSCs.
In a study by the Journal of the American Dental Association (ADA), researchers found that although both the tongue cleaner (a combination brush and scraper) and the tongue scraper were more effective at reducing VSC levels than regular brushing, the reduction only lasted for thirty minutes.
After that amount of time, the VSC levels for all three methods returned to normal. With only a thirty-minute window, the ADA wasn’t comfortable promoting tongue scraping as a useful weapon in the fight against bad breath.
But don’t let this research discourage you from using tongue scrapers to improve your tongue health! We’ll talk more about this oral health technique in a moment.
3. It’s not “a” muscle
You’ve probably heard that the tongue is the strongest muscle in the body at some point or another.
But not only is this statement false, it’s also misleading. The tongue is actually made up of two different muscle groups, each containing four muscles!
One group of muscles secures the tongue to the surrounding facial structures, while the other makes up the incredibly flexible and agile pink blob that we see when we open our mouths.
You’ll notice in the previous sentence that we didn’t say the tongue attaches to a specific bone…
Well, this is because it doesn’t play by the same rules as the other muscles in your body.
Together, the two groups of tongue muscles form something called a muscular hydrostat, which works a lot like an octopus’s tentacles.
This complex network of muscles functions independently of any bone structure and allows you to twist, turn, and morph your tongue into all kinds of shapes and sizes.
And it’s a good thing too because, without all that range of motion, speaking and eating would be a whole lot harder!
*By the way, pound for pound, the strongest muscle in the human body is the masseter, a jaw muscle that’s responsible for closing your teeth!
4. Things can get “hairy”
Yes, you read that right.
There is, in fact, an oral health condition called “hairy tongue” that causes your tongue to take on a furry look.
Remember the papillae from fact number one?
If for whatever reason, they’re unable to shed away their dead skin cells, they hold onto that extra tissue instead and continue to grow longer.
Reaching further out from the base of the tongue, these extended papillae catch far more food particles and bacteria than normal.
The result? The papillae become stained by whatever bacteria comes into contact with them, giving your tongue that hairy look.
And the “fur” could be black, brown, or white in color, depending on what you eat or drink.
Sounds terrible, doesn’t it?!
Don’t worry. Hairy tongue is usually totally harmless, painless, and you can easily brush the fur away with a tongue scraper or toothbrush.
But what causes this freaky-looking condition?
The cause of hairy tongue is hard to pin down, but according to Mayo Clinic, these factors may play a role:
- Changes in the normal bacteria or yeast content of the mouth after antibiotic use
- Poor oral hygiene
- Dry mouth (xerostomia)
- Regular use of mouthwashes containing irritating oxidizing agents, such as peroxide
- Tobacco use
- Drinking excessive amounts of coffee or black tea
- Excessive alcohol use
- Eating a soft diet that doesn’t help to rub dead skin cells from your tongue
Although regular brushing can typically get rid of this unsettling condition, if it doesn’t go away, make an appointment with your San Diego dentist.
5. You have a “tongue print”
Just like you have a fingerprint that’s unique to you, you also have a totally original tongue print!
Much like the grooves in the skin on your fingertips, the arrangement of the papillae on your tongue is responsible for this one-of-a-kind design.
Interestingly, forensic scientists are working out a way to use people’s tongue prints as a way of identifying them.
According to a study by the Journal of Forensic Dental Science:
“The tongue is unique to every person with respect to its shape and surface textures. Since it is an internal organ, it can be easily exposed for inspection and the exposed surface carries the required information…In recent years, tongue print is gaining momentum as an important tool in biometric authentication.”
6. Your tongue health is a window to your oral and overall health
If there’s an issue with your tongue health, chances are something is happening within your body that’s causing it.
For example, creamy white patches on your tongue could mean you have a fungal infection called thrush…
Lichen planus is a skin condition involving the immune system that can also lead to white patches on the tongue…
Hard, flat white patches that won’t come off with regular brushing or scraping could be a sign of leukoplakia, a condition that’s linked to cancer…
Canker sores can occur if you accidentally bite your tongue or brush too hard…
A smooth, bright red tongue accompanied by mouth pain could mean you’re not getting enough vitamin B3 in your diet…
Raised, painful bumps can be a sign of oral cancer…
And bad breath can be the result of poor dental hygiene.
If any of these issues persist longer than two weeks, give your San Diego dentist a call as soon as possible.
In the meantime, stay on the safe side and help prevent dental health concerns like these by cleaning your tongue every time you brush.
As far as tongue-cleaning methods go, scraping is a perfectly suitable option to remove food debris and bacteria, but traditional brushing works just as well.
Whatever you do, just make sure you do it consistently. A healthy tongue promotes a healthy mouth!
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We make this dream a reality by working with each of our patients to accommodate their budget and provide the dental care they need to enjoy a healthy smile.