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Cat Got Your Tongue?

When it comes to dental hygiene, one of the most overlooked areas in the mouth is the tongue. Many patients brush, some floss, and fewer pay attention to the tongue.

The tongue is an amazing digestive organ that is comprised of skeletal muscle, special senses, nerves, lymphatic tissue, and blood vessels. Its most important functions are articulation of speech, making sounds, and swallowing. It helps move food around in the mouth, detects the flavor of food by distinguishing between the combinations of salt, bitter, sweet, sour, and savory. It detects temperature and surveys the mouth for abnormalities as well. Systemic diseases can sometimes present themselves in and on the tongue such as vitamin B12/folate deficiency, autoimmune disorders, tumors, and cancer. At every checkup, my colleagues and I search for these abnormalities in an effort to catch them at the earliest possible stage.

Fun fact* In embryology, the tongue and thyroid gland cells are found together. As the embryo develops, the thyroid gland cells migrate down until they reach their final destination in front of the windpipe just below the thyroid cartilage.

The tongue is covered with special sensory papillae called taste buds. There are four types: foliate, fungiform, circumvallate, and filiform and the average person has 2,000-8,000 which are replaced about every 14 days. In between the taste buds are crevices called crypts where microorganisms, cellular debris, and sugars hide. The result is bad breath (halitosis), potential sources of infection (candidiasis, bacterial, spirochete and viral diseases), and decay.

So, how do we take care of our tongue? Using a tongue scraper is a great first step. There are several types on the market, so it’s a matter of personal preference. They vary in shape, size, cost, and availability. Here’s a Google link to tongue scrapers:

The recommendation is to use a tongue scraper at least once a day either in the morning or at night. Many tongue scrapers don’t cover the entire tongue, so multiple passes may be necessary to adequately debride all areas. Tongue scrapers don’t normally harm the tongue and if used properly, will remove the cellular debris coating, mucous, microflora, sugar, and some stains. The benefits are enhanced taste, reduced bad breath, and an overall healthier mouth.

In an ideal world, the tongue scraper should be used after flossing and toothbrushing. Using an antiseptic mouthwash, like Listerine, immediately after tongue scraping has the added benefit of exposing the newly displaced microflora to the agent as well as diluting and removing the sugar.

A rinse other than Listerine that may be of benefit is a dilution of half 3% hydrogen peroxide and half water, rinsing for one minute up to four times daily. The hydrogen peroxide will help destroy bacteria and over the course of 12 weeks, may also whiten teeth. Care must be taken not to use a stronger concentration of hydrogen peroxide or rinsing with it for more than a minute at a time because it can cause gingival burns.

One problem encountered with tongue scraping is the gag reflex. If you have a strong gag reflex, start small and only scrape a small area like the tip of the tongue at first. Use baby steps and over time, scrape more and more of the tongue until you can accomplish it without gagging. Other obstacles are an injured dorsum of the tongue due to burns, abrasions, burning mouth syndrome, infections, and lacerations. I would recommend allowing the tongue to heal or avoiding the injured area before resuming full scale tongue scraping. Some tongue scrapers wear out and I’ve found online recommendations about replacing them every 3-4 months.

This concludes today’s blog. I hope you found it useful!

“Cats will amusingly tolerate humans only until someone comes up with a tin opener that can be operated with a paw.” – Terry Pratchett

“When my cats aren’t happy, I’m not happy. Not because I care about their mood but because I know they’re just sitting there thinking up ways to get even.” – Percy Bysshe Shelley

“In ancient times cats were worshiped as gods; they have not forgotten this.” Terry Pratchett

“A cat can purr its way out of anything.” – Donna McCrohan

“The problem with cats is that they get the same exact look whether they see a moth or an ax-murderer.” – Paula Poundstone

“You can keep a dog, but it is the cat who keeps people because cats find humans useful domestic animals.” -George Mikes

“Cats’ hearing apparatus is built to allow the human voice to easily go in one ear and out the other.” Stephen Baker

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