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Can cleaning your tongue help reduce risk of heart disease, arthritis, and other inflammatory issues?

Short on time? Here’s a quick summary of this article’s most important points:

The human body contains a microbial ecosystem.
The mouth and the body are connected and influence one another.
Oral bacteria create biofilms. The health-supporting bacteria thrive when biofilms are thin. However, if we allow the biofilm to build and become thick, then it starts supporting disease causing bacteria that we call ‘thug bugs’.
Thick tongue biofilm has been linked to higher levels of the inflammatory blood marker known as CRP. Likewise, thin biofilm has been linked to lower levels of CRP.
Cleaning the tongue each day helps keep biofilms thin.

Wanna get the full scoop? Keep reading below. 🙂

 

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Scientific literature continues to highlight the connection between the health of our mouths and the health of our bodies.

If you’ve read our blog for any amount of time, you’ve probably heard us talk about the mouth/body connection before.

For years, we’ve explored  the profound impact that oral health can have on whole-body health.

In fact, we’ve previously published articles that discuss topics like the gum disease and Alzheimer’s connection as well as  how regular flossing helps lower the risk of heart disease.

Specifically on the subject of cleaning the tongue, we published, “Why cleaning the tongue is the most underrated oral hygiene habit”.

It can be challenging to shine the light on cultural blindspots and keep working to bust commonly-believed mouth myths.

Thankfully, new studies continue to back up our so-called ‘woo woo’ holistic principles. So, we know that as we continue to explore the mouth/body connection, we’re helping ourselves (and others) on the journey to optimal health. 🙂

 

It’s all about your microbiome

Surely you’ve come across the tsunami of information that’s been pouring into the wellness blogosphere regarding the microbiome’s crucial role in our health and vitality.

More and more, we’re realizing that each person is really an entire ecosystem of microbes and human cells engaged in a beautiful genetic dance.

In order to thrive, we must be good stewards of the various microbiomes that make up our bodies. In fact, as we share in this video tutorial that explores various models of wellness, this is a huge component of navigating to optimal health and wellness.

In our article, “How to Balance Your Oral Flora“, we refer to this as being a ‘good conductor’ of the symphony of microbes in our mouths.

 

But what does this have to do with cleaning my tongue?

To be a ‘good conductor’, one thing we need to do is maintain thin biofilms. In the mouth, these biofilms are generally called ‘plaque’.

As we’ve shared in previous articles, not all plaque is bad. In fact, plaque is an essential part of life.

However, if we allow plaque (biofilms) to mature, they get thicker. And that’s where the trouble starts.

You see, thin biofilms encourage the colonization of health-supporting, oxygen-loving (aerobic) microbes.

However, as biofilms mature and thicken, they become anaerobic (low-oxygen) environments, and this change allows other, pathogenic (disease causing) microbes to flourish.  We refer to these anaerobic microbes as ‘thug bugs’.

In general, thug bugs tend to have a much greater chance of causing trouble for us. These anaerobic microbes can cause an inflammatory cascade in our immune system. We explored this concept more deeply in our article, “4 steps to stop gum disease from causing an autoimmune disease in your life“.

 

How could tongue cleaning lower the risk of heart disease (and other inflammatory conditions)?

Herein lies the heart of the main oral health myth that we want to dispel…

Ready? It’s very obvious and so simple that it’s even kind of silly.

We can’t fully compartmentalize body parts.

English poet John Donne said, “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.”

Well, no mouth is an island. 🙂

The mouth and the rest of the body are connected.

This means that the mouth can influence the body and the body can influence the mouth.

The tongue is the epicenter of introducing new material into our entire GI tract. And, nearly 80% of our immune system resides in our GI tract.

So, maintaining a thin biofilm on the tongue is centrally important if we want to avoid continuously harboring and swallowing inflammation-causing microbes.

 

‘Microbial skyscrapers’ on the tongue…

The tongue provides a tremendous opportunity for a low-oxygen environment to form.

In fact, one fascinating science podcast  discusses how the microbes that live on the tongue build ‘microbial skyscrapers’. These ‘skyscrapers’ are just what we’ve been talking about: thick biofilms.

If we’re going to be a good conductor of the symphony of microbes in our mouth, we need to take regular action to prevent these microbial structures from becoming skyscrapers.

 

Study linking tongue biofilm and inflammation

In one study, researchers found that the patients who had a thicker tongue coating also had significantly elevated levels of CRP (C-Reactive Protein).

As a quick refresher, CRP is a blood biomarker that is commonly used to assess the level of general inflammation in our bodies. The higher the CRP, the more inflammation we have and the greater the risk of heart attack (and other inflammatory diseases).

High CRP is also very common in people who are suffering from arthritis.

Back to this study, as we mentioned, researchers found that the patients who had a thicker biofilm on the tongue also had higher CRP levels. Likewise, thinner tongue scum was related to lower CRP levels.

So, while this study wasn’t quite as groundbreaking as the research in the flossing article that we mentioned earlier,, it still helps to highlight the connection between the mouth (the thickness of tongue biofilm) and the rest of the body (the level of CRP in the blood).

 

Why brushing the tongue isn’t cleaning the tongue

Brushing the tongue is somewhat helpful, but it’s just not as thorough as cleaning (scraping) the tongue.

Remember the microbial skyscrapers? Brushing doesn’t take them down. You need a tongue bulldozer for that.

Enter the tongue cleaner. This oral hygiene tool from Ayurveda (an ancient, holistic medicine system from India) has made a comeback in the past 15 years.

 

How to clean your tongue

Cleaning your tongue is literally as simple as dragging a blunt edged metal tool across your tongue a number of times.  Most simple is a spoon, however, our tongue cleaners provide the best cleaning because the angle that they maintain while cleaning your tongue.

This ‘vintage’ OraWellness video tutorial explains a simple, two-step tongue cleaning technique to help folks who suffer from chronic bad breath (low-oxygen microbes are the ones that produce foul odor).

That was one of our very first video tutorials. Since then, we’ve made a much better quality (albeit not as silly 🙂 ) ‘reboot’ video that details how to effectively clean the tongue and get you well on your way to becoming a great conductor of the symphony of microbes in your mouth.

 

 

Your loved ones will thank you, too!

It’s worth restating, the tongue is home to the majority of microbes that cause bad breath.

So, by cleaning your tongue daily, not only will you support both your ‘in-the-mouth’ and ‘whole-body’ health, but you’ll also naturally freshen your breath.  Here’s a link to our Healthy Teeth & Gums Starter Kit that contains all of the supplies you need to optimize your oral health while supporting whole body health.

What about you? Were you shocked at all of the gunk you removed when you first cleaned your tongue? What benefits have you experienced by cultivating this daily habit? Please share in the comments below! We’d love to learn from your experience!

 

Helpful, related resources:

Is Alzheimer’s actually caused by gum disease? (and what you can do about it) [article]
Does Flossing Really Lower My Risk of a Heart Attack? [article]
How to Balance Your Oral Flora and Be a Good Conductor of the Symphony in Your Mouth [article]
Can some plaques actually help our teeth stay healthy? [article]
4 steps to stop gum disease from causing an autoimmune disease in your life [article]
The CURE for Bad Breath
Why cleaning the tongue is the most underrated oral hygiene habit [[article and video tutorial]]

 

Other resources:

https://www.sciencefriday.com/segments/microbiome-tongue/
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21275163/

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