While brushing your teeth at least twice a day and flossing them at least once is accepted as common basic oral hygiene practice, is it also necessary to direct your toothbrush to your tongue? After all, it’s right there, and you’re in the neighborhood! At the very least, it will help freshen your breath even more!
As you can tell, our answer is “yes,” but with qualifications. There are two methods for cleaning the tongue: brushing and scraping. For those considering — or already performing — the former, be aware that brushing the tongue requires a different technique from brushing teeth to prevent making small cuts into its delicate tissue. Knowing the proper technique for both methods is the key to success. More about each method a little later!
Next, having some background on the reasons for paying attention to your tongue can explain why adding this step to your daily regimen is beneficial. Brushing or scraping the tongue is an ancient Ayurvedic (traditional Indian medicine) self-care practice that has been performed for centuries throughout many countries. However, its popularity in the United States is relatively recent, as people become more proactive in their oral health.
Your Tongue is Covered in Bacteria
Limiting your oral hygiene to brushing and flossing your teeth misses all of the bacteria hiding within the tiny, rough surfaces of your tongue.
“Bacteria will accumulate greatly in the areas of the tongue between the taste buds and other tongue structures,” says John D. Kling, DDS, of Alexandria, Virginia, in Healthline. “It’s not smooth. There are crevices and elevations all over the tongue, and the bacteria will hide in these areas unless it is removed.”
This bacteria forms a biofilm (a group of microorganisms) that stick together on the surface of the tongue. Removing it isn’t as simple as drinking water or using mouthwash.
“It’s difficult to kill the bacteria in the biofilm because, for example, when mouth rinses are used, only the outer cells of the biofilm are destroyed,” says Kling. “The cells beneath the surface still thrive.”
These bacteria can lead to bad breath and even promote decay on the inner surfaces of the teeth. For this reason, it’s necessary to physically remove the bacteria by brushing or scraping your tongue.
As Healthline also mentions, a buildup of excess debris can cause your tongue to take on a white, coated appearance. Daily brushing or scraping can remove this coating and prevent it from returning. Another benefit is that it will improve your sense of taste!
Brush or Scrape – Which is Better?
Although some clinical studies tend to indicate that scraping is more effective, this is mainly a matter of personal preference, as additional research needs to be done. If you choose to brush, you can use a standard soft-bristle toothbrush, or a special brush designed specifically for the tongue. However, Colgate recommends a tongue brush. This typically has a wider surface area than a toothbrush, with fine nylon bristles to reach within the crevices of the tongue’s surface. Some brands incorporate a tongue scraper.
“Due to the differences between the tongue’s surface and tooth enamel, toothbrushes may not clean the tongue as thoroughly as you’d like them to. The tongue’s surface may feel soft against your teeth, but it is quite rough and covered with tiny crevices, making it easy for bacteria to hide. The first job of toothbrushes isn’t handling these little spaces; it’s to clean the hard, smooth surface of tooth enamel and reach into much larger grooves.”
Tongue scrapers are curved to fit the shape of your tongue, and can be made of plastic or metal. One major advantage of a metal (usually stainless steel) scraper is that it will last indefinitely. It will never need to be replaced — unless lost — and therefore is better for the environment, for those who are concerned about the environmental impact of the products they use. Again, some brands incorporate both a scraper and a brush, so shop around to see which best appeals to you.
Effective Techniques for Brushing and Scraping Your Tongue
This really isn’t complicated, but using the right technique for either method will achieve the best result. Colgate provides the following steps.
To brush the tongue:
- Put a small amount of toothpaste on your brush.
- Start at the back of your tongue and brush your way forward.
- Use gentle but firm pressure in back-and-forth motions, just like brushing your teeth.
To scrape the tongue:
- Place the scraper at the back of the tongue and pull it forward to the front of your tongue.
- Move the scraper across your tongue multiple times at different angles.
- Remove the excess food or debris from your tongue by rinsing your mouth with water.
- Remove or rinse the tongue scraper each time you use it to keep it sanitary and clean.
Follow up either type of cleaning with a mouthwash. Of course, rinse your brush or scraper after each use. To kill germs and bacteria, soak in an antibacterial mouthwash for about five minutes. By the way, this is also good advice for keeping your toothbrush clean!
Because you’re including this in your regular oral care routine, brush or scrape your tongue when you brush your teeth. If you’re pressed for time in the morning, do it at night.
Here’s a note of caution. If you’re motivated to brush or scrape your tongue because of persistent bad breath, it may have other causes — such as tooth decay, infections in your mouth, nose, sinuses, or throat; medications; diabetes or other serious health issues. Scheduling regular checkups with your dentist will provide a timely diagnosis of dental issues so they can be treated quickly, and/or a recommendation to schedule an appointment with your healthcare provider.
Now that you know the benefits of brushing or scraping your tongue, you’ll do an even better job in maintaining your oral — and by extension your overall — health! Of course, your dentist is your partner in keeping your teeth and gums healthy for life. At NK Family Dental, it is our mission to provide the highest quality and most compassionate oral care to our Chicago patients, including both dental and periodontal services. Our practice is trusted for advanced oral surgery procedures and comfortable root canal treatment.
Our dental specialists include our general dentist, Dr. Nilofer Khan, our endodontist, Dr. Sabek, and our periodontist, Dr. Amir Danesh. Dr. Danesh is a board-certified periodontist and Diplomat of the American Board of Periodontology. He has contributed to the publication of two books, as well as published over 20 papers in prestigious dental research journals.
We understand that the main concern you may have is cost, which is why we accept all major PPO plans for dental insurance and also offer our in-house dental plan. Please see our financing page for more information.