You brush and floss twice a day, but you could be doing your mouth a disservice if you aren’t also attacking the bacteria living on your tongue. Whether it’s to fight bad breath or just for good dental health, cleaning your tongue is important, dentists say.

Coffee turns it brown, red wine turns it red. The truth is, your tongue is just as much of a target for bacteria as your teeth are, even if it is not at risk for developing cavities itself.

“Bacteria will accumulate greatly in the areas of the tongue between the taste buds and other tongue structures,” says John D. Kling, DDS, of Alexandria, Virginia. “It’s not smooth. There are crevices and elevations all over the tongue, and the bacteria will hide in these areas unless it is removed.”

So, what is this buildup? It’s not just harmless saliva, says Kling. It’s a biofilm, or a group of microorganisms, that stick together on the surface of the tongue. And unfortunately, getting rid of it isn’t as simple as drinking water or using mouthwash.

“It’s difficult to kill the bacteria in the biofilm because, for example, when mouth rinses are used, only the outer cells of the biofilm are destroyed,” says Kling. “The cells beneath the surface still thrive.”

These bacteria can lead to bad breath and even tooth damage. Because of this, it’s necessary to physically remove the bacteria by brushing or cleaning.

Kling says you should brush your tongue every time you brush your teeth. It’s pretty simple:

  • brush back and forth
  • brush side to side
  • rinse your mouth with water

Be careful not to over brush, though. You don’t want to break the skin!

Some people prefer to use a tongue scraper. These are available in most drugstores. The American Dental Association says there is no evidence that tongue scrapers work to prevent halitosis (bad breath).

Cleaning your tongue usually makes bad breath go away, but if it’s still a problem, you may want to consult with a dentist or your doctor. Your problem could be more serious. Bad breath can be caused by tooth decay; infections in your mouth, nose, sinuses, or throat; medications; and even cancer or diabetes.

Tongue brushing is an easy addition to your daily dental routine. Experts recommend making it a regular habit.