Have you ever woken up after a night out and been horrified by the taste in your mouth? Do you ever catch yourself breathing into your palm and sniffing it before a meeting or a date? You’re not alone. Many people struggle with bad breath, no matter how often they brush their teeth. The culprit may be a dirty tongue.
Even though it's been practiced for centuries in countries like India and Africa, tongue cleaning is a relatively new phenomenon in the western world. People from the past used materials like copper, silver, and in some cases, even ivory to scrape their tongues as part of their dental routines. Today you can find scrapers made of everything from plastic to stainless steel.
This article will explore the importance of tongue scraping, how to do it, and even learn how to clean your tongue naturally. Whether you’re a veteran tongue scraper needing a tune-up for your technique or someone eager to try it for the first time, keep reading about how to clean your tongue safely and effectively.
Why Should You Clean Your Tongue: A Quick Look
Even though dental professionals highly recommend cleaning your tongue either by brushing or scraping it, you still might not be convinced. Let’s examine some convincing reasons you should add tongue cleaning to your oral health routine.
When done properly and regularly, tongue cleaning:
- Removes odor-causing bacteria and reduces bad breath
- Corrects the appearance of a black tongue due to the build-up of dead skin cells or bacteria
- Helps prevent tooth decay and gum disease because of the bacteria it removes from your mouth, teeth, and gums, allowing you to improve your smile
- Clears out build-up from your tongue surface that could be preventing you from tasting your foods completely
- Improves your digestive process by eliminating harmful bacteria that may disrupt it
- Boosts your immune system by removing dangerous bacteria from your mouth that could enter and infect your body
Cleaning your tongue has many health benefits and is an easy step to add in your daily dental regime.
5 Tried And True Ways To Properly Clean Your Tongue
There are many reasons we may wish to clean our tongues. Perhaps our breath is smelling less than fresh, or perhaps we notice our tongue looks dirty. Sometimes, when we examine our mouths in the mirror and stick out our tongues, we may notice they don’t look healthy or pink.
If you notice that you have any of these signs, including the appearance of a white, spotted, or yellow tongue, you will likely want to do something about it. Although findings suggest using a tongue scraper is slightly more effective at removing bacteria from the tongue and mouth than a toothbrush, you may not have access to one.
To remedy this, we’ve listed several different techniques you can incorporate into your daily routine.
Brush Back And Forth
This obvious technique can easily be incorporated into your teeth-brushing routine. Start by ensuring your toothbrush is wet, then gently place it near the back of your tongue.
If this is too uncomfortable for you due to your gag reflex, move the brush toward the middle of your tongue until you feel less inclined to retch or cough.
Using light pressure, gently brush back and forth on the full surface of your tongue. Make sure to cover all areas, including the sides and tip. Be careful not to press too hard on the bristles, as this could irritate your tongue or even damage your taste buds.
Rinse your mouth out with water and repeat as many times as necessary until your tongue feels fresh as a daisy.
The side-to-side tongue brushing technique is just a different variation from the abovementioned back-and-forth technique. Simply place a wet toothbrush near the back of your mouth, remembering to adjust your starting position depending on the strength of your gag reflex.
Slowly start brushing side-to-side up and down the length of your tongue, making sure to cover all areas. Don’t use too much pressure, as this may cause inflammation, cuts, or even irritate your taste buds.
After you feel you’ve adequately brushed your entire appendage, rinse with water and repeat the process as much as necessary. Neither side-to-side nor back-and-forth brushing is better at removing bacteria from your tongue, so feel free to use whichever technique you like, although combining both patterns will make for optimum cleanliness!
Rinse Your Mouth With Water
Gargling with a mouthful of water is a simple way to eliminate food particles and any excess bacteria that may have been accumulating on your tongue, gums, and teeth. While not as effective as brushing or scraping, this method will still leave your mouth feeling fresher and cleaner than before.
Make sure to take a good swig of water and focus on swishing it around your mouth, aiming at the back of your throat and tongue. It’s also helpful to do this for 30 seconds or so just to get all of the debris you can.
Once done, simply spit out the water and repeat as often as you’d like. If you want to take your rinse one step further, create a saltwater rinse. Experts expound on the benefits of saltwater rinses.
Not only does gargling with salt water kill harmful bacteria, but it also prevents infection, reduces inflammation in the mouth, and promotes healing from canker sores, herpes on the tongue, or dental surgery. It has even been shown to protect against the common cold!
Use An Antiseptic Mouthwash
Mouthwashes containing ingredients like chlorhexidine or fluoride can be helpful for targeting harmful microorganisms that can cause tooth decay or gum disease.
The bonus of using these mouthwashes is you can reach areas in between your teeth and under your tongue that can be difficult to get at with scraping and brushing alone.
Simply gargle with the mouthwash much like you would with regular water or a saltwater rinse. It depends on your personal preference whether you choose to rinse before or after brushing your teeth, but either will still get the job done.
Mouthwash with fluoride will also have the added benefit of fortifying your tooth enamel but be warned, children under 6 should not be using toothpaste or mouthwash containing fluoride.
Mouthwashes are great for preventing tooth decay and stopping bad breath in its tracks, but mouthwash isn’t for everyone. If you have a tingling tongue or an inflamed mouth after gargling, you might want to experiment with other tongue-cleaning methods.
These narrow devices are used to reach the back of your mouth, where most of the harmful bacteria gather. Usually designed to fit the contours of your mouth, scrapers come in all shapes and sizes, from key-shaped designs to flat ribbed toothbrushes to a wire U shape.
Tongue scrapers can be made from plastic or metal, but medical professionals recommend metal because it won’t conceal bacteria and is more durable.
To use your scraper, simply reach as far back on your tongue as you are comfortable and carefully pull it forward, grazing the surface of your tongue as you go. Before using your scraper, make sure to check for smooth edges with no chips or nicks as this could irritate your tongue or cause you to cut yourself if you use too much pressure.
Once you’ve dragged the scraper down the length of your tongue, make sure to rinse the scraper under running water before scraping again. Repeat this as often as necessary until your tongue feels smooth and debris-free.
You may want to follow your scraper with a rinse of water, salt water, or antiseptic mouthwash just to make sure you get all the bacteria possible from your mouth. Of course, make sure to wash your scraper with soap and water, dry it carefully, and store it in a cool, dry place until you use it again.
Make sure to notice the color of your tongue as you scrape. If you have a purple tongue, that may indicate a lack of oxygen in your blood. This could be a condition called cyanosis, and you should seek medical attention immediately if you notice it has come on suddenly.
Different Types Of Tongue Cleaners: Pros And Cons
Each tongue-cleaning method has pluses and minuses, so let’s evaluate each.
Traditional Tongue Scrapers
These common scrapers come in so many shapes and sizes that there is bound to be one that fits your personal preferences. Easy to use and affordable, they are a popular choice because they get the job done when it comes to removing bacteria. They are also a great choice for people allergic to mouthwash or toothpaste.
There are some drawbacks to these standard devices, however. People who struggle with a strong gag reflex will find using these scrapers challenging. In addition, these scrapers, particularly the plastic ones, must be cleaned carefully between each use.
This is because bacteria can often accumulate in the minuscule nooks and crannies found in plastic appliances. However, these tools effectively maintain dental health with careful use and proper hygiene.
As the name suggests, tongue brushes are simply a form of a toothbrush but made with very soft bristles, so they don’t hurt the tongue's surface. Another advantage is accessibility. If you own a toothbrush with soft bristles, using it to brush your tongue when you’re finished cleaning your teeth is a simple process.
One of the disadvantages of brushing your tongue over using a scraper is the scientific evidence clearly showing that scraping does a better job of ridding your tongue and mouth of harmful bacteria, with nearly a 40% additional reduction in harmful microorganisms.
Even with this difference, if all you have is a toothbrush, then it is clearly worthwhile to add tongue brushing to your daily brushing routine.
Tongue Gels And Sprays
If you have a sensitive tongue, then these new kids on the tongue-cleaning block maybe for you. These products are designed to break down bacteria by using enzymes or pro-biotics. One benefit of these methods is that they are very easy to use, with many users carrying sprays in their pockets.
There isn’t much research on the effectiveness of these new products, so the jury is still out on their effectiveness, although most dentists agree they aren’t as effective as tongue scrapers.
Another drawback of using tongue gels or sprays is that they must be replaced more frequently than a brush or a scraper, costing you more money.
Copper Tongue Cleaners
Copper is recognized as being one of the first antimicrobial metals. This means when using a copper tongue scraper, you will get a one-two punch of effectiveness in your fight against bacteria and tooth decay.
Because copper is more durable than plastic, it is more economical to use in the long run. This should offset the higher cost of the initial purchase when compared to a metal or plastic tongue cleaner.
Also, copper tongue cleaners may require more diligent care not to damage the metal than cleaners made from other materials.
Common Tongue Cleaning Mistakes To Avoid
While we’ve touched on them briefly already, let’s review some common mistakes people make when cleaning their tongues.
Brushing Too Hard
In their enthusiasm, many people apply too much pressure to their devices when cleaning their tongues and end up with a sore, irritated mouth or a burned tongue. Brushing too hard is easy to do, but it can cause some real problems.
Aside from damaging your tongue surface, you could also spread the bacteria around your mouth. This then increases your risk of infections like tongue ulcers.
To avoid making this mistake, practice using gentle pressure when brushing your tongue. One way to do this is to practice fine motor skills that require a gentle touch, such as needle-point, sketching, or building models.
Not Knowing How To Clean The Back Of the Tongue
Often, people fear reaching too far back into their mouth for fear of hurting themselves or activating their gag reflex. Unfortunately, the deep, dark crevices at the back of your mouth and tongue are the perfect breeding ground for bacteria.
If you can’t reach the back of your tongue before scraping or brushing, you may miss out on getting a clean mouth. One way to remedy this problem is to choose a device you feel comfortable with that fits into your mouth easily.
Another way to offset this mistake is to make sure to clean every other surface of your tongue you can comfortably reach.
Using The Wrong Type Of Cleaner
Individual preferences and needs go a long way in picking the correct tongue cleaner for you. If you’re a person who is very sensitive to pressure, a tongue scraper may not be the best solution, and you may want to try a gel or a spray.
Likewise, if you get a dry mouth very easily, an antiseptic mouthwash may worsen the problem, increasing the likelihood of bad breath.
Consult your dental professional for help deciding the right type of tongue cleaner for you!
Not Cleaning Often Enough
When it comes to oral hygiene, consistency is key to success. Because the tongue is the perfect location for the build-up of bacteria, it's essential you remove it daily. This will help prevent tooth decay, gum disease, and a whole host of other issues that can develop.
Most dentists recommend cleaning your tongue daily; however, if you struggle with bad breath, you could easily incorporate tongue cleaning into your twice-daily tooth-brushing regime and see twice the benefits!
Pictures Of Clean Tongues Vs. Dirty Tongues
It's easy to tell the difference between a tongue that is cleaned regularly and a tongue that isn’t; here are some before and after examples.
This is an example of how scraping can eliminate white spots on the tongue.
The image on the right clearly shows a much healthier tongue and mouth.
Another before and after clearly emphasizes the benefits of tongue cleaning.
Benefits Of Regularly Cleaning Your Tongue
Cleaning your tongue is an easy and quick process to add to your already established routine and provides numerous benefits such as:
- Sweet Smelling Breath. As we’ve mentioned, bacteria like to hang out in your mouth, particularly on your tongue. Over time, this build-up of unpleasant microorganisms causes an unpleasant odor that can severely hamper your social life. Daily cleaning will eliminate these odors and get your breath smelling fresh and clean.
- Increased Oral Health. Where bacteria goes into the mouth, tooth decay and gum disease follow. By incorporating tongue cleaning into your oral hygiene program, you’ll have fewer cavities and a brighter smile for years to come.
- Enhanced Taste. It can be difficult to taste food properly when bacteria have piled up on your tongue and dulled your tastebuds. Removing the offensive material will give your taste buds a better chance to experience your food and allow you to savor every meal.
- Better Digestion. Your digestive process starts in your mouth, where saliva breaks down food. When your tongue is covered in microorganisms that interfere with this process, your body will have difficulty getting nutrients from your food.
Integrating regular tongue cleaning methods into your daily routine will enhance your dental health and overall well-being.
Natural Remedies For Cleaning Your Tongue
As with everything, you can try some at-home alternatives to clean your tongue and improve your dental health.
While not as effective as tongue scraping or brushing, oil pulling has been shown to be at least as effective as using mouthwash or rinses for decreasing plaque. Oil pulling was derived in India and uses oil as a mouthwash to freshen breath and improve oral health.
While any food oil is useful for this practice, coconut oil is the choice for most people due to its appealing taste. The main benefit of oil pulling is reducing harmful bacteria levels in your mouth. While more studies must be done to prove its effectiveness, the practice can’t harm you and could be worth a try.
Aloe Vera Juice
Touted as a natural way to deal with white tongue, aloe vera juice has many anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties and is also rich in antioxidants. Rinsing with aloe vera juice will help reduce harmful bacteria, speed up the healing of canker sores, reduce inflammation, and decrease the risk of tooth decay and gum.
Check with your dental professional before using aloe vera juice, as it may have adverse effects for some people and may be contraindicated for some blood pressure medications.
Turmeric is a herb with origins in Asia and India. Recently, turmeric is taking the dental world by storm as a powerful new agent for dental health.
Turmeric has many properties and is considered to be anti-inflammatory, anti-carcinogenic, anti-microbial, antimutagenic, and contains anti-oxidants.
With curcumin as its active ingredient, turmeric has been shown to decrease plaque and inflammation and help detect plaque.
Turmeric paste is created by mixing turmeric with a little salt and mustard oil, and then the mixture is rubbed into the teeth and gums daily. This poultice is used to treat gum diseases like periodontitis and gingivitis.
As with any natural remedy, consult a professional before incorporating it into your routine.
How Often Should You Clean Your Tongue?
Most dental professionals recommend cleaning your tongue once a day. The best time to do this is before or directly after you brush your teeth in the morning. This is because bacteria have time to build up in your mouth overnight and should be removed as soon as possible when you wake up.
If you are still struggling with fresh breath or are losing that “clean mouth” feeling, you can easily clean your tongue twice daily and get twice the benefits.
Now that you know all the ins and outs of how to keep your tongue clean, we’ll address some common questions about the process.
How Can I clean My Tongue Without A Scraper?
If you don’t own a scraper, you can easily clean your tongue with your toothbrush by starting at the back of your tongue and gently brushing back and forth until you reach the tip.
How Can I clean My Tongue Without Gagging?
If gagging is an issue for you, try a different type of tongue scraper or a different method of tongue cleaning. If you are still struggling, just make sure to start the process more in the middle of your tongue instead of the back, and each day try to start a little bit farther back until you get used to the feeling.
Can I Clean My Tongue With Baking Soda?
Yes, you can. Simply create a paste by combining a small amount of baking soda with water. Apply the paste to your tongue with a toothbrush or your finger and gently scrub. Make sure to rinse afterward.
What Is The Best Way To Clean My Tongue?
Because everyone has different needs and preferences, there may not be the best way for everyone. The key is to find a method that works for you and your lifestyle.
Why Is My Tongue Always Dirty?
A build-up of bacteria, dead skin cells, or food particles could cause the feeling or appearance of a dirty tongue. The best way to get clean your tongue is by adopting a daily dental routine.
Is Tongue Cleaning Necessary?
Yes. Cleaning your tongue will eliminate unwanted bacteria in your mouth and reduce your risk for tooth decay and gum disease.
What Foods Clean Your Tongue?
Nuts, cheese, and crunchy fruits and vegetables can help clean your tongue and teeth by increasing saliva production, neutralizing the acid in your mouth, and rubbing away the plaque on your teeth.
Does Toothpaste Help Clean My Tongue?
Toothpaste can help clean your tongue a little, but you should always combine it with a tongue scraper or brush to get the full effect.
How Can I Remove Bacteria From My Tongue?
There are many ways to remove bacteria from your tongue, including using a tongue scraper, brushing your teeth, and gargling with an antiseptic mouthwash.
Summing It All Up
When you take care of your tongue, you care for yourself. Cleaning your tongue is essential to your dental hygiene and shouldn’t be ignored.
Getting a clean tongue includes brushing, scraping, or rinsing, and all will help reduce harmful bacteria in your mouth that contribute to tooth decay and gum disease.
When you brush your teeth tomorrow, take a second to give your tongue some attention. Your tongue, your breath, and your beautiful smile will thank you!