12/02/2011 06:24 pm ET | Updated Feb 01, 2012

Bad Breath and Your Tongue

Have you ever really looked at your tongue? Does it have a coating or a color that doesn't seem right to you? We all know that it's important to brush, floss and use a mouthwash when doing our (at least) twice-daily oral hygiene routine -- but do you remember to clean your tongue? Yes, it's just as important to clean your tongue as any other part of your mouth to ensure fresh breath. Today there are tons of products and devices on the market specifically designed to target your tongue. Here are some articles that explain why it's so important to not only take care of your teeth, but your tongue too.

For example, did you know a coated tongue can cause halitosis? Bad breath itself isn't visible, but a tongue that is coated with a yellow, white or brownish film may be a sign that your breath is less than fresh. Why does one's tongue turn white? There are a few reasons according to the Mayo Clinic. It could be due to excess consumption of alcohol, smoking, dehydration or when you have a fever. All of these things can cause the mouth to dry up which leads to halitosis. On more rare occurrences, infections such a syphilis or thrush can make one's tongue white, too. It's even possible for one's tongue to be brown or black in appearance. If you do have bad breath and you believe the culprit is a dark or hairy tongue, you could have condition known as lingua villosa nigra. This is when the buds of the tongue kick into overproduction of a substance called keratin, which causes the buds to grow longer than normal. This isn't a disease and it is harmless (other than the funky appearance) but can result in some killer breath. The best way to eliminate any type of coated tongue is to clean your tongue daily and use a toothpaste while doing so. This will not only help the condition of your tongue, but your breath as well.

Did you know that there are billions of bacteria on your tongue? These microbes that live in the mouth are the main culprit of halitosis -- about 90 percent of all cases. The Journal of the American Dental Association published a study that found that people with large colonies of anaerobic microorganisms on their tongues tended to have stronger (worse) smelling breath than those that didn't have such large colonies of bacteria. However, the cause of this might just be genetics. The surface of a person's tongue can affect how widely spread and to what degree bacterial colonization happens. Some of us may have tongues that have fissures or small grooves or cracks and unfortunately these same people may be more prone to developing halitosis. The team also reported that halitosis maybe be due to "geographic tongue," which is a condition in which taste buds are rough and discolored. The name comes from these taste buds that form a map-like shape on top of the muscle of the tongue. Again, this can be addressed with normal oral hygiene and taking care to clean one's tongue at least once a day with the right products. However, it's important not to clean too harshly as this might just irritate the condition of your tongue further.

But does tongue scraping help to quell bad breath? Scientists and dentists say yes. Adding a tongue scraper to your twice daily oral hygiene routine and the addition of an oral care probiotics rinse may help to eliminate bad breath even more than just brushings, flossing and rinsing. A group of Korean researchers from Seoul National University's College of Dentistry published the results of a study in the Journal of Periodontology on this subject. The findings indicated that for many sufferers of bad breath, a coating on the tongue is a major cause. This group tested the mouths of 40 volunteers for volatile sulfur compounds (VSCs), which are a leading known cause of bad breath. These VSCs are the molecules that give halitosis its smell. The participants were asked (after initial testing) to use tongue scrapers, and were then tested for their VSC levels again. Results were that these levels were largely reduced. Even those in the study that had fairly low levels of VSCs still found their results post tongue cleaning to be lower. The authors stated "the tongue coating was demonstrated to be a primary halitosis-inducing factor." If the words "tongue scraper" are enough to make you cringe, then try using an alcohol-free mouth wash that is designed to stop odor-causing bacteria, as suggested by the British Dental Association . If you want to go one step further, introducing an oral care probiotics regimen to your daily cleanings can naturally replace offensive compounds and bacteria with healthy ones.

Along with bad breath that may follow you throughout your day, morning breath is also a major turn-off. But unless you sleep with your mouth wired shut, you probably open your mouth while sleeping at least once in a while, which leads to your mouth getting dried out and developing morning breath. Morning breath, which is different than regular bad breath, is caused by dry mouth, and now new research suggests that the pH balance of your tongue may have something to do with it too. A study published in the Journal of Applied Oral Science found that people with morning breath tend to have more slightly acidic saliva and may have a basic tongue coating (as we discussed previously). The team from Brazil's Bauru School of Dentistry saw that even though participants rinse with various products to stop morning breath, their pH levels were only slightly affected. The pH levels of those with morning breath pretty much stay the same with any type of treatment. However, the study does not state whether they used an alcohol-free oral rinse, which can actually balance out one's pH levels (yes, it does exist!). If this still doesn't cut out the morning breath, it may be better to get down to a microscopic level by trying an oral care probiotic which, over time can replace these funky bacteria with harmless, less stinky ones.