Common medical questions and answers through blogs and articles

How to Clean The Tongue

To keep your mouth healthy and avoid committing the dreaded social blunder of having halitosis, otherwise known as “bad breath”, dentists recommend that you do the following:

  • Brush your teeth twice daily
  • Floss at least once per day
  • Use a tongue brush or scraper daily.

So, what the heck is a tongue scraper, and, furthermore – why did my dentist never recommend doing this?

Well, the concept has been around for a long time; in fact, tongue cleaning was performed by the Romans, and was recorded in Europe back in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Avoid bad breath

With oral cancer on the rise, your dentist or dental hygienist, probably already conducts an oral cancer screening for you.  This is because, sadly, some 40,000 Americans are diagnosed with oral and throat cancers yearly, with a five-year survival rate of those diagnosed at only slightly more than 64 percent.

An oral cancer check by your dentist involves probing your head and neck.  There is an inspection of the jaw area (temporomandibular joint or TMJ), as well as checking out salivary glands and lymph nodes in your neck area.  Additionally he or she will look at your face, neck and lips to make sure there are no unusual swellings, lip dryness, bleeding or other abnormalities that need to be checked further.  Lastly, your gums, and most especially your tongue, receive a thorough going over.

While you may not be able to duplicate the entire exam at home, you can use a mirror to check your tongue on daily basis.  Just like your dentist, you should use a piece of gauze to lift your tongue up to view it from the underside, then using another piece of gauze, fold your tongue over to check out each side.  The checking is done to detect abnormal color or bumps that appear on the surface of the tongue.  So, by ensuring your tongue is cleaned on a daily basis, guarantees not only sweet-smelling breath and good oral hygiene, but enables you to detect abnormalities of the tongue just as soon as they occur.  Tongue cancer originates in the cells of the tongue, most specifically, the flat squamous cells that line the surface of the tongue.  The type of cells involved in tongue cancer ultimately determines your cancer prognosis and treatment.

Cancer prevention

Tongue-cleaning brush:

You can use a soft brush designed to clean the surface of the tongue, or a dental implement called a tongue cleaner or scraper.

If you use a toothbrush to clean the surface of the tongue, these would be the recommended steps:

  • Apply a light layer of toothpaste to coat your tongue before scraping or brushing as it helps neutralize the bacteria on the tongue and remove the bacteria easily and effectively.
  • Be gentle and brush in a downward motion several times.
  • Rinse your mouth thoroughly with water.
  • Avoid using mouthwash after cleaning the tongue.

Dentists do not recommend the use of alcohol-based mouthwash on a daily basis as it dries out the mouth excessively, so you might wish to use a natural or non-alcohol-based mouthwash later in the day.   Using mouthwash directly after scraping may dehydrate your tongue, leaving it discolored.  The suggested mouth rinse would be a mild saline water rinse (lukewarm water with a half teaspoon of salt) to keep your mouth clean and bacteria free.

Tongue scraper:

If you use a scraper to clean the surface of the tongue, there are several types available.  They are made from plastic, metal or other materials and their effectiveness varies depending on the shape, dimensions, configuration, quality of the contact surfaces and materials used.  Most dentists recommend using a stainless steel scraper because it is more sanitary since it is easier to keep clean.  In a pinch you can even use the side of a spoon.   Tongue scrapers are relatively inexpensive, and available at a health food store on online (Amazon), so you might want to try different styles to see what type works best for you.  There are tongue-cleaning gels recommended for use with the scrapers, and this product consists of antibacterial agents which will enhance the cleaning effects.

These would be the recommended steps for using a scraper:

  • Apply the cleaner, whether it is a store-bought tongue-cleaning gel, or a paste you create from toothpaste, or a salt and baking soda mixture.
  • Hold the two ends of the scraper in both hands while sticking out your tongue, placing the scraper as far back on the tongue as possible.
  • With firm, but gentle pressure, begin to scrape your tongue’s surface in long strokes.
  • Repeat the process at least five to ten times, rinsing the scraper with each stroke.
  • When there is no “coating” that remains on your tongue, rinse with water and you are done.

Most people like to clean their tongue before they clean their teeth, especially when you see the shocking statistic that up to 500 different types of bacteria lurk on your tongue.  These include decaying food debris, fungi (such as Candida), and dead cells, from the rear surface of the tongue.   So really… who want to put these bacteria into a fresh and clean mouth?

For more information on how to be proactive in preventing oral cancer by properly cleaning your tongue, or understanding best practices for dental hygiene, contact a dental office.

Leave a comment