If you find you sometimes struggle with bad breath, despite scrupulously brushing your teeth at least twice a day and flossing regularly, your tongue may be the issue. Many people forget about the tongue, but caring for it, too, is an important part of good oral hygiene as well.
Why Clean Your Tongue?
Beyond keeping your breath fresh, using a tongue scraper or other method to clean your tongue removes bacteria, which builds up on your tongue just as it does on your teeth. If not removed, it hardens into plaque and tartar.
Just like bacteria build up on and in between your teeth, hardening into plaque and tartar if not removed, bacteria also builds up on your tongue. The surface of your tongue is bumpy and can harbour bacteria, dead skin cells, and food particles. The bacteria and other debris cause bad breath and a whitish coating. The bacteria and particles transfer onto teeth and gums, after brushing and increasing the risks of plaque buildup, tooth decay, and other oral health risks.
Cleaning the tongue also helps prevent a hairy tongue, clears the mucous layer that also builds up on tongues, and improves your sense of taste.
As part of good oral hygiene, cleaning your tongue should be done daily.
Examine Your Tongue
You should start by regularly examining your tongue. A healthy tongue is pink. You can see if you have developed a film of bacteria and dead cells on its bumpy surface; tongue scraping should remove this.
Symptoms of Oral Health Issues to See a Dentist About
You should consult your dentist if you notice any dramatic changes in the look of your tongue, have a tongue coating that lasts longer than a couple of weeks, or has tongue pain.
Some symptoms to watch for are your tongue becoming white or developing white patches, which could be signs of thrush, oral cancer, or other conditions. A very red tongue or one with pink or red patches may indicate a geographic tongue.
If it becomes smooth and shiny, becomes discoloured, looks yellow or black, looks hairy, or develops sores or bumps that do not go away within a few weeks, you should also consult with your dentist.
As well, any severe trauma or burns to it may require getting a professional to look at it.
Tongue Scrapers and Other Tongue Cleaners
There are a variety of tools available. Tongue scrapers, either in the form of U-shaped wires or with a rigid head, are the most common, but there are tongue brushes and combination scraper brushes. If you do not have a cleaner or scraper on hand, you can use your toothbrush, but studies suggest that tongue scraping, with a tongue scraper, is more effective compared to toothbrushes in reducing the volatile sulfur compounds that cause unpleasant breath.
How to Clean Your Tongue Properly
Whether brushing or scraping, to properly clean your tongue only light pressure is needed; this shouldn’t hurt.
A tongue scraper is designed to smoothly scrape along the tongue surface and remove bacteria, as well as skimming off food debris and the layer of mucus.
You should clean your tongue after brushing your teeth, twice a day, especially if you are concerned about your breath.
Stick your tongue out fully, place the scraper at the back of the tongue, and scrape from the very back towards the front. Rinse the residue off the tongue scraper with warm water, and repeat until you have done this for the entire top surface of your whole tongue.
Go slowly, and always go from the back to the front, so you don’t push bacteria farther down into your mouth and throat.
Afterward, thoroughly clean and dry your tongue scraper.
If You Brush Your Tongue
If you are using a brush, the tongue-brushing technique is the same, scrubbing from the back toward the front with a damp brush. You can also do this while there is toothpaste residue from brushing your teeth.
Oral Hygiene Routine
Make cleaning your tongue a part of your good oral health routine, to remove the buildup of bacteria.
Following up with a therapeutic mouthwash, including ones with hydrogen peroxide, to further fight bacteria may also be helpful for you to avoid bad breath.
Tips for Comfort When Using a Tongue Scraper
If cleaning your tongue regularly is making your tongue sore or uncomfortable, you may be doing it too roughly. You only need to use a light touch, or you can irritate your tongue’s delicate surface and cause inflammation. If your tongue is sore, wait a couple of days, then try again, but more gently.
If you have a cut or a sore, wait until it is healed before scraping, to avoid aggravating it. Monitor any sores to ensure they are not symptoms of a health issue.
To avoid triggering your gag reflex when reaching the back of the tongue, go slowly when starting your tongue-cleaning routine, so you can get used to it. Stick out your tongue fully, and when you are about to put the scraper on the back of the tongue, relax it and breathe out while you start to scrape. Breathing out can suppress the gag reflex.
If You Have Any Concerns
Robson Square Dental is committed to your oral health. For regular checkups to prevent any oral concerns, or if you are noticing any abnormalities with your tongue, we provide friendly care to support your dental and overall health. Our knowledgeable dentists provide a range of services, so Robson Square Dental can be your convenient one-stop shop for all your dental care needs.