When cleaning your teeth, do you focus on carefully brushing along the gumline? Then floss afterward to ensure there are no little bits of food left? Follow up by using a mouthwash, but then completely neglect keeping your tongue clean?
Don't worry; you're not alone.
Many of my patients are aware of the importance of cleaning their teeth but are completely oblivious that cleaning your tongue is part of a good oral hygiene routine too!
If you think about it, the tongue does take up a lot of space in our mouths, and it's textured enough that lots of little bits of food debris and grime can get caught on it and linger, causing bacterial growth, bad breath and altered taste, among other things.
What does tongue cleaning involve?
So is it a good idea to brush your tongue to keep it clean? While brushing it with a tongue brush is okay, the best way to keep it clean is by scraping it. This is usually done with a plastic or metal tool called a tongue scraper rather than a toothbrush with a tongue cleaner on the back of the brush head. Tongue scraping is the fastest way to remove all the food debris from the surface of your tongue.
What are scrapers? Well, basically, they are thin, semi-circular tools made out of plastic, silicone, or metal.
Benefits of tongue cleaning
Cleaning buildup and keeping your tongue clean can have numerous benefits. Not only can it remove the bacteria that cause bad breath and improve the tongue's appearance, but research shows it can improve your sense of taste, helping you to differentiate between flavors more easily.
One study even found tongue scraping to be more effective at removing odor-causing bacteria than brushing your tongue, removing 75% of bacteria compared to 45% with a toothbrush!
Tongue cleaning can also help prevent cavities, gum disease and tooth decay by clearing harmful bacteria and plaque from the mouth. Bonus: a lovely clean tongue can create a pleasant, fresh-feeling mouth.
Best way to clean your tongue
After brushing and flossing, stick your tongue out as far as possible. Extending it this way exposes as much as possible and can help you clean your tongue without gagging.
Then run the scraper over the whole surface of the tongue. Be sure to scrape your tongue from back to front, rinsing the scraper of buildup in between. Repeat the process, as the scraper will not be big enough to cover the entire surface of the tongue in one swipe, and you will want to make sure you get as much debris and bacteria removed as possible.
Finish by rinsing your mouth out with water. Do this at least twice daily, with your regular morning and evening brushing routine.
Does tongue cleaning hurt?
Cleaning your tongue should not hurt. You should only use light pressure for this, which won't hurt you or do any damage. Should you feel pain, you are likely pressing too hard with the scraper. Putting too much pressure on the scraper is the only way you will likely have tongue scraping side effects.
Best tools for tongue cleaning
There are many different kinds of tongue cleaning tools, but tongue scrapers are the most common and tend to be the easiest to use. They come in various materials, such as metal, plastic and silicone, and different people prefer one kind over the other, so I suggest trying a few. My personal favorite is the TEPE GOOD™ TONGUE CLEANER, as it is made from sugarcane fibers and has three rows, reducing how many times you need to pass it over your tongue.
The downside of a plastic scraper is that they are not as durable and need to be frequently replaced, which is also not so good for the environment. Some clients prefer silicone as it is generally more comfortable and softer in the mouth. It is best to replace your tongue scraper every 3-4 months, but copper tongue scrapers and some metal tongue scrapers can be used much longer, providing they are correctly cleaned and stored.
You need to rinse the scraper in warm water after each pass over the tongue, and it needs thorough cleaning after use. There are various methods for cleaning the scraper, depending on the material.
Metal and copper can be sanitized in hot water or boiled with vinegar and salt. Others suggest using a lemon cut in half and rubbing it with salt, then rinsing and leaving it to air dry. I recommend simply rinsing the scraper, drying it with a clean cloth, and leaving it to air dry until the next use.
So should you clean your tongue next time you brush your teeth? And do tongue cleaners really work? The answer is a resounding yes!
So, now you know how to properly clean your tongue, keeping your tongue clean is an effective way to improve your overall oral health and hygiene, and all it takes is just a couple of extra minutes into your brushing routine. This is preventative dentistry at its finest!