Are You Supposed To Clean Your Tongue?
Everyone knows you should brush your teeth twice a day and floss daily. You probably know to avoid a high-sugar diet to prevent tooth decay. But did you know that knowing how to clean your tongue has evidence-based oral health benefits?
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Yes, you are supposed to clean your tongue! Don’t scrape too hard; it should not hurt. But cleaning your tongue is great for your oral health, dental health, and overall health.
In this article, we’ll detail how to clean your tongue the right way. We’ll also sort through the science behind cleaning your tongue.
Cleaning Your Tongue [and Why It’s Important]
Cleaning your tongue is a habit in which you scrape or brush your tongue to get rid of harmful bacteria and stubborn food particles that live in between all those little bumps and crevices.
It is important because brushing your teeth and flossing don’t address the health of your tongue, and your tongue needs to be taken care of too.
5 reasons to clean your tongue:
- Gets rid of bad breath
- Prevents or reduces a bad taste in the mouth
- Improves the look of your tongue
- Promotes good oral health (including gum and dental care)
- Promotes good overall wellness
Remember, cleaning your tongue should never hurt.
A 2019 systematic review finds that adverse effects caused by tongue scraping were either not reported or non-existent.
Volatile sulfur compounds (VSCs) are the primary cause of bad breath or a bad taste in your mouth. (Not counting drinking coffee or eating fish!) Tongue cleaning may help remove harmful VSCs that result in bad breath.
Ayurveda (traditional Indian medicine) suggests cleaning your tongue as part of a robust oral hygiene routine in order to remove toxic debris from your oral cavity.
What does a healthy tongue look like? A healthy tongue looks pink, with small, painless nodules called papillae. White, yellow, or brown discoloration are signs of an unhealthy tongue.
Swelling, inflammation, or irritation indicate tongue problems. If any new lumps or bumps form, that is not a good sign.
Is plaque on the tongue normal? Technically speaking, plaque on the tongue is not normal. Your tongue may harbor harmful bacteria and VSCs, but dental plaque does not really form on the tongue. If plaque is present on the tongue, you may have oral thrush or leukoplakia.
Important: Tongue scraping does not treat oral thrush (oral candidiasis). It may prevent oral thrush, but do not clean your tongue once you show symptoms of oral thrush, such as white patches on your tongue or mouth. Seek medical advice right away if you show signs of oral thrush.
What’s the most effective way to clean your tongue?
The most effective way to clean your tongue is with a high-quality tongue scraper/tongue cleaner every time you brush your teeth. You can also use a toothbrush, but it’s a bit less effective.
In order to effectively clean your tongue, you need to scrape or brush the entire surface of your tongue, including the back of your tongue, without gagging.
Also, cleaning your tongue should never hurt. Don’t scrape or brush your tongue too hard. It could damage your taste buds or cause cuts. Use gentle scraping motions to clean the entire surface of the top of your tongue.
How do I get rid of plaque on my tongue? You get rid of plaque on your tongue by scraping or brushing your tongue. Researchers have found that cleaning your tongue reduces odor-causing bacteria and may even improve your overall health.
Tongue scrapers are very effective when made of a hard metal like stainless steel or copper. But other effective models are made of silicone or high-quality plastic.
How to Clean Your Tongue with a Tongue Scraper
Here is your step by step guide on how to effectively clean your tongue with a tongue scraper:
- After flossing then brushing your teeth, open your mouth wide. Place the tongue scraper on the back of the tongue — as far as you can go without gagging — with the ends facing outwards.
- Apply gentle pressure, pulling the scraper forward — from the back of your tongue to the tip.
- Rinse the tongue scraper with warm water after each scrape.
- Repeat this process 3 to 6 times. Some experts suggest 3 scrapes to cover the entire surface of the tongue, then repeating the 3 scrapes multiple times.
- After your 3-6 scrapes, thoroughly wash your tongue scraper with soap and warm water.
- Store your tongue scraper in a clean, dry location — preferably far from your toilet. Don’t let the tongue scraper touch other oral hygiene tools.
Make sure your tongue cleaner reaches the back of your tongue without triggering your gag reflex.
How to Clean Your Tongue with a Toothbrush
Here is your step-by-step guide on how to effectively clean your tongue with a toothbrush:
- After flossingthen brushing your teeth, open your mouth wide. Place your toothbrush on the back of the tongue.
- Gently brush your tongue forward and backward along the surface of your tongue. You can even brush the roof of your mouth.
- Rinse the bristles every few passes to clear bacteria.
- Repeat this process several times, brushing the entire surface of your tongue 3 to 6 times.
- After your 3-6 brushes, rinse your toothbrush with warm water.
- Keep your toothbrush in a dry location, head up to air dry. Toothbrushes should be kept far from toilets, and don’t let your sonic toothbrush head touch other objects, especially other toothbrushes.
Is it okay to brush your tongue with toothpaste? It is okay to brush your tongue with toothpaste. Some dentists recommend brushing your tongue with toothpaste, while others find it unnecessary. If you use toothpaste, be careful not to swallow any, since you’ll be brushing the back of your tongue.
Can mouth rinses clean your tongue?
Mouth rinses can help clean your tongue, although mouthwash should not be a replacement for tooth brushing or tongue scraping.
Some experts recommend using a therapeutic mouthwash that contains active ingredients meant to destroy harmful bacteria in your mouth and on your tongue.
The 2 purposes of mouthwash/mouth rinsing are:
- To freshen breath
- To wash away excess plaque and food debris
I suggest avoiding antibacterial mouthwashes because they can kill beneficial bacteria and disrupt a healthy oral microbiome.
Alcohol-based mouthwashes promote dry mouth, which is horrible for your oral health.
Benefits of Cleaning Your Tongue
The top benefits of cleaning your tongue are:
- Less bad breath
- Prevention of tooth decay
- Reduced risk of gingivitis/gum disease
- Improved ability to taste food
- A healthy oral microbiome
- Improved overall health
Below, I outline the science behind each of these benefits.
1. Less Bad Breath
The clearest benefit to cleaning your tongue is reducing bad breath (halitosis).
A 2019 study published in the Journal of Applied Oral Science concludes that tongue brushing reduces the number of odor-causing bacteria and improves individuals’ own perceptions of their breath. In this study, those who brushed their tongue 6 times saw better results than those who brushed their tongue 3 times.
Another study reveals that tongue scraping may be more effective at reducing odor-causing bacteria.
An older study found slightly better results when a combination of a tongue scraper and toothbrush are used to clean the tongue than using a tongue scraper or toothbrush by itself. Halitosis was reduced in both cases.
2. Prevention of Tooth Decay
Yes, cleaning your tongue can help your teeth stay healthy! It may seem odd, but getting rid of harmful bacteria off your tongue can reduce the harmful bacteria that finds its way onto your teeth, which would result in tooth decay.
Some studies suggest that tongue cleaning has no obvious effect on dental plaque.
However, scraping the surface of your tongue reduces the overall harmful bacteria in your oral cavity, which should result in fewer bacteria able to form plaque buildup on your teeth.
One small study shows tongue scraping reduces Streptococcus mutans bacteria, which contribute to tooth decay.
A study published in the International Journal of Clinical Pediatric Dentistry compared tongue brushing to tongue scraping in 45 children. “…the tongue scraping and tongue brushing groups [both] showed statistically significant reductions in plaque levels after 10 days and also after 21 days.”
3. Reduced Risk of Gingivitis/Gum Disease
Similar to preventing tooth decay, cleaning your tongue can keep harmful bacteria from getting under your gums, which would lead to gum disease.
Gum disease is also known as periodontal disease. The earliest stage of gum disease is gingivitis. The later stages of gum disease are called periodontitis.
A small study indicates that the tongue may be a “reservoir for periodontal pathogens”, meaning a breeding ground for harmful bacteria that ends up under your gum line.
One prominent dentist writes that “tongue cleaning…might reduce tooth and periodontal disease.”
The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services recommends you “lightly brush your tongue or use a tongue scraper to help keep your mouth clean” under the “How to Clean Your Teeth and Gums” section.
4. Improved Ability to Taste Food
Cleaning your tongue may improve your sense of taste.
According to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Periodontology, two weeks of tongue scraping can improve taste sensation.
Taste goes hand in hand with smell. Improving your taste is probably the same as reducing bad breath smell, but it affects both senses.
5. A Healthy Oral Microbiome
Scraping your tongue is great for your oral microbiome. A clean tongue means less harmful bacteria without killing a bunch of good bacteria.
In 2000, the US Surgeon General called the mouth “the mirror of health and disease in the body.”
Your oral microbiome is the balance of healthy microorganisms to unhealthy microorganisms living in your mouth, including:
Often, people only refer to the bacteria, which is admittedly the main component of a microbiome. However, the microbiome is a little more complex than that.
There are several risk factors for an unhealthy oral microbiome:
- Poor oral hygiene
- High-sugar diet
- Dry mouth
- Gum inflammation
- Dysfunction of salivary glands
- Antibiotic overuse
6. Improved Overall Health
Cleaning your tongue doesn’t only benefit your tongue. Tongue cleaning contributes to good oral health, which contributes to good overall health.
Tongue cleaning contributes to your whole-body health in the following ways:
- Tongue cleaning may reduce the risk of tooth decay and gum disease. Both of these, left untreated, negatively affect your cardiovascular health.
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) patients have higher levels of harmful oral bacteria. Cleaning your tongue may reduce your harmful bacteria load, as well as your risk of IBD.
- Your oral microbiome affects your gut microbiome, which plays a huge part in your immune system. Tongue cleaning may lead to fewer harmful bacteria making it to your gut, which should promote a healthy gut, therefore a healthy immune system.
- Oral bacteria may be a cause of Alzheimer’s disease. Reducing harmful oral bacteria by cleaning your tongue may reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
- An unhealthy oral microbiome may be linked to complications during pregnancy and labor, including preeclampsia or miscarriage. Tongue scraping supports a healthy oral microbiome, potentially reducing the risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes.
How often should you clean your tongue?
You should clean your tongue every time you brush your teeth, but at least twice a day.
Some tongue cleaners only scrape their tongue when they have a bad taste in their mouth or notice bad breath.
Other individuals scrape their tongue twice a day, which several studies suggest is the best practice.
When to See a Dentist
You should see your dentist if you see a colored film on your tongue, or if new lumps form, or if your tongue is painful to the touch. Of course, you always need to visit a dentist and dental hygienist twice a year for your oral care checkup.
To make your dentist happier when you visit, go to Triple Bristle’s online store to supercharge your oral hygiene routine. You won’t find these state-of-the-art oral healthcare products at conventional drug stores. Every model of our Triple Bristle triple sided toothbrush comes with a tongue cleaner!
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