Of the widespread practices that have come and gone, tongue cleaning is probably one of the most lasting. And it’s got science to back it up. A study by Seemann, Kison, Bizhang, and Zimmer for the Journal of the American Dental Association notes that tongue cleaning using a tongue cleaner or scraper effectively reduces bad breath. This reduction is more than a toothbrush can.
Contrary to popular belief, tongue cleaning isn’t new. If you’re familiar with Ayurveda or traditional Indian medicine, you might already be familiar with it. According to these practices, tongue cleaning or scraping not only improves your oral hygiene but also benefits your overall health. Both Ayurveda and science recognize the mouth as the entry to digestion. Both then put a premium on taking care of it.
Scientifically, the efficacy of tongue cleaning or scraping for chronic bad breath may need more research. But this doesn’t go to say that it’s without benefit altogether. Bacteria can accumulate on the tongue over time, leading to an unsightly tongue and bad breath. A tongue cleaning practice is then positively encouraged, particularly when you brush your teeth.
While you can clean your tongue with a toothbrush (some toothbrushes also come with a built-in tongue cleaner), some have recommended using a separate tongue cleaner. This recommendation is so you can thoroughly scrape off the bacteria, as proposed by the study by Seemann et al.
Why Should I Clean My Tongue?
Just as much as brushing your teeth is necessary, brushing your tongue will help you achieve the best oral health possible as the majority of the bacteria in your mouth are on your tongue, existing and breeding on its surface.
You eliminate the bacteria clinging to your teeth through brushing, but if you missed out on cleaning your tongue, bacteria on it will transfer to your teeth over a few hours.
How Should I Clean My Tongue?
You can use techniques to remove the bacteria and food particles that harbor in your tongue. You can either use a regular toothbrush by using its bristles, a specialized toothbrush with a built-in tongue cleaner, a teaspoon, or a tongue scraper.
Brushing Your Tongue
You can brush your tongue using the bristles of your toothbrush. After brushing your teeth:
- Use a dab of toothpaste and gently brush the top of your tongue.
- Start from the back of the tongue, working forward toward the mouth’s opening.
- Rinse with water.
You must brush away from your mouth to refrain from brushing gunk back into the mouth. Make sure to use a soft toothbrush and apply gentle pressure not to hurt your tongue.
Cleaning with a Tongue Scraper
You can also choose a tongue scraper which is made of soft, flexible plastic. It gently peels off the thin mucus-based layer of debris from the tongue.
After each use, rinse the scraper with warm water to clean it. Make sure that the right pressure is applied when using the scraper.
Similarly, with brushing your tongue, begin at the back of the tongue, moving towards the opening of the mouth.
Clean Your Tongue with a Teaspoon
If a tongue scraper is unavailable and you do not want to use your toothbrush, you can turn to your kitchen for a tongue cleaner.
You can use a teaspoon to clean your tongue. Moisten the spoon and turn it upside down. And like with toothbrush and tongue scraper, start from the back, going towards the mouth’s opening, then rinse.
There are contradicting opinions on the effectiveness of toothbrushes in tongue cleaning over using a tongue scraper.
According to research, toothbrushes clean the tongue better because of the bristles that can reach the grooves and furrows of the tongue.
But other research believes otherwise, pointing out that brushing your tongue may be insufficient since toothbrushes were created for cleaning the hard enamel of the teeth and not for soft muscles like the tongue.
Whatever method you use, always be gentle in scraping your tongue to avoid hurting it.
After cleaning your tongue, do not forget to rinse to remove the residue that may have been left.
Do I Need a Tongue Cleaner for My Baby?
Indeed, baby mouths may be cleaner than your average adult, but they can get the same problems if not tended to properly. Without regular cleaning, food particles and bacteria may accumulate along with your baby’s tongue and teeth. When this does happen, your baby may be at risk of a slew of infections. This risk increases once they grow their teeth out. But even without the first set of teeth, your child can still harbor oral ailments, such as oral thrush.
The typical oral hygiene routine for babies requires very little. Cleaning mostly requires a soft gauze or cloth and some water. The use of fluoride at this stage may be beyond your child’s needs. And because they don’t have teeth, a toothbrush might not be necessary. In terms of tongue cleaning, however, there are baby-safe tongue cleaners available on the market. These tongue cleaners are for parents who want to be more thorough when cleaning their baby’s tongue.
But is a tongue cleaner necessary for your baby? Not really. Typically this is done at the same time as their gum cleaning. You can clean their tongues the way you tend the rest of their mouths. Just be sure you don’t accidentally activate their gag reflex in the process.
What Does The Color Of Your Tongue Mean?
The color of the tongue is a good indicator of how healthy you are, how good (or bad) your oral care is, and if there is an unusual condition present in your mouth.
Here are some of the colors your dentist might be looking for on your tongue and what they suggest:
White coating on the tongue
A thin, white film on the tongue usually means there is bacterial growth or an infection. One suspect is thrush, a condition caused by yeast, also known as candida. Poor diet, low immunity, and/or high stress or anxiety can contribute to thrush.
Poor oral hygiene can also contribute to a white coating on the tongue. However, if you notice that even with brushing this white film doesn’t go away, you should visit your dentist as soon as possible. He or she will provide you with a course of antibiotics or an anti-fungal medication if necessary.
Dark colored tongue
Healthy tongues should be pinkish in color. If you notice that your tongue is dark with a black or brown tinge, this could mean that you’re suffering from dietary intake problem.
A gray or blackish tongue indicates that you’re vitamin B12 deficit, and a purplish tongue often indicates vitamin B2 deficiency.
Sore spots on your tongue can be a real bother. These spots are known as canker sores, which are a small form of ulcers that form within your mouth. If you had these before, you’re probably well-aware how painful and uncomfortable they can be.
You can reduce the symptoms by gargling with salt water and applying medicated ointment. It can take up to 10 days for canker spots to fully heal, but if you’re experiencing it longer than 10 days, you should visit your dentist for further examination and treatment.
Extremely red tongue
While healthy tongues will have a slight tinge of redness, an extremely red tongue is not a good thing. If you notice that your tongue is extremely red, bright, red or dark red, then you could be having nutritional complications.
Due to insufficient vitamins such as vitamin B3 or vitamin B12, the color of your tongue can change to bright or dark red. If you’re anemic, your tongue could also turn bright red.
However, keep in mind that spicy, very cold, or hot foods and beverages can also contribute to a very red tongue but only temporary.
Usually, if you notice that your tongue has turned yellow, this is an indication of bacterial infection. If your tongue has a yellow tinge, it could also mean that you’re experiencing gastric acid reflux.
If you notice any of these colorings on your tongue, it’s a good idea to visit your dentist or a doctor to have your condition further evaluated and properly treated.