From the time we develop our first little baby teeth, brushing becomes a part of life. Twice a day, every day, we brush, rinse, and spit for fresh breath and clean teeth. And if we're really good, we even floss like we tell our dentists we do. But one part of our dental hygiene routine that isn't always discussed when we make our bi-annual dental visit is whether we should be cleaning our tongue. And if we are to clean it, how in the world do we actually do that? Tongues seem like a pretty important component of overall oral hygiene, so we figured it was time to do some investigating into how we should be properly caring for our tongues. We turned to the experts to learn how to best clean our tongues, and here's what they had to say.
Do You Really Need to Clean Your Tongue?
We wash our hair, our bodies, and our teeth routinely, so why do so many of us skip over a body part that is both constantly submerged in saliva and also used to help breakdown food? Yes, you should be cleaning your tongue. At the very least, making sure to clean your tongue is helpful in getting rid of potentially harmful bacteria, and on a more superficial note, incorporating your tongue into your oral hygiene habits can also lead to better breath.
It's also important to consider that the top of the tongue is not smooth, explains Jack Hirschfeld, DDS, clinical instructor at the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine's School of Dental Medicine. "Food debris and bacteria can collect on the tongue, resulting in bacterial overgrowth and possibly bad breath," he says. He also explains that in extreme cases, a brown or black hairy appearance to the tongue can develop if you let the overgrowth get out of hand. So if you weren't convinced beforehand to give your tongue a scrubbing, you should be now.
Increased risk of gum disease is another side effect of having too much bacteria growing in the mouth, explains Keith Wolfe, DMD, a Florida-based board-certified dentist. Cleaning your tongue not only helps get rid of bad breath, but it also eliminates a myriad of bacteria and protects against gum disease.
How Do You Clean Your Tongue?
Both Dr. Hirschfeld and Dr. Wolfe agree that a simple toothbrush or tongue scraper are the usual go-tos when it comes to tongue cleaning, with the scraping method often being the more effective choice of the two.
The process of brushing your tongue is quite intuitive. Just like when you brush your teeth, you put a small amount of toothpaste on your wet toothbrush and, in a back-and-fourth motion, brush your tongue until you cover the entire top surface. Once you are finished, rinse and spit, just as you do when you brush your teeth.
To scrape your tongue, you will first need to get your hands on a tongue scraper, which typically contain a copper or stainless steel wire. To use the scraper, place the scraper at the back of the tongue and pull it forward to the front of your tongue. Repeat this process a few times, holding the scraper at different angles. Rinse and spit like usual, and be sure to clean the scraper when you're done with it.
The best way to clean your tongue may be a combo of brushing and scraping. A clinical study showed that a combination brush and scraper was slightly more effective in reducing oral volatile sulfur compound levels (compounds that can cause bad breath) than when the tongue scraper and a regular toothbrush were used alone.
No matter which method you choose to clean your tongue, it is a good idea to start including this practice in your daily regimen. Especially if you are noticing that you are tasting things differently or you have persistent bad breath, tongue cleaning can be a simple addition to your oral care routine that can help keep your mouth as clean as possible.