Fresh breath, healthy teeth, firm gums – regular tongue cleaning can contribute to this. After all, 60 to 80 percent of all microorganisms in the oral cavity cavort in the coating on the back of the tongue. From there, they can cause bad breath and possibly tooth decay and periodontitis. Read here how to clean your tongue and which remedies help against tongue coating.
Tongue cleaning – does it make sense?
Dead cellular debris from the oral mucosa and food residues easily adhere to the rough surface of the tongue. They form a mostly whitish coating that provides an ideal breeding ground for bacteria – with unpleasant consequences: The microorganisms may promote caries and periodontitis.
Preventing caries and periodontitis with tongue cleaning?
With tongue cleaning, you can remove the coating on the tongue, along with a large part of the bacteria. At least that’s the theory – there is no scientific evidence of the effectiveness of tongue cleaning in preventing tooth decay and periodontitis. However, some studies show slightly positive effects of tongue cleaning. It is undisputed among dentists that tongue cleaning is at least not harmful.
Read more about oral care: Yellow teeth: tips to get white teeth
Tongue cleaning fights bad breath
Experts believe that in 85 to 90 percent of all cases, bad breath originates in the mouth and not in the stomach (the latter is less often the cause of bad breath). Among other things, physicians blame the bad odor on certain bacteria that live on the tongue. These form volatile sulfur compounds from dead mucous membrane cells and food residues, which make the breath smell unpleasant.
If you clean your tongue regularly, you can prevent this unfavorable alliance and thus prevent bad breath. But cleaning your tongue has another effect: If you clean your tongue regularly, you improve the sensitivity of your taste buds and strengthen your sense of taste.
Cleaning the tongue – this is how it’s done
There are several ways to remove tongue coating.
- Remove tongue coating with medicinal herbs
Medicinal herbs such as sage, myrrh, and thyme kill the germs on the tongue. You can either apply appropriate herbal tinctures to the tongue with a cotton swab or use them diluted as a mouth rinse.
- Removing tongue coating with hard food
You can also remove tongue coating mechanically by eating a lot of hard food: Chewing raw fruits and vegetables, as well as bread crusts, will loosen light coating by itself.
- Cleaning the tongue with a spoon
If the tongue coating remains or you (have to) eat mainly soft or liquid foods, you can use mechanical aids – such as a tablespoon – to clean your tongue. To clean your tongue, gently run the inside of the spoon over the back of your tongue in long strokes from back to front. Make sure you start as far back as possible because most bacteria are found on the last third of the tongue.
You may feel a gagging sensation, especially the first few times. You can avoid this by grasping the outstretched tongue with a cloth and pulling it downwards before starting to clean the tongue.
Be especially careful when using the tablespoon method to clean your tongue: Sharp spoon edges can injure the tongue.
The toothbrush is less suitable for tongue cleaning. It is simply too high and therefore quickly hits the sensitive uvula in the throat – gag reflex guaranteed.
- Special remedies against tongue coating
Meanwhile, there are numerous other remedies against tongue coating. They have been specially developed for cleaning the tongue. The risk of injuring yourself with them is correspondingly low. You can find these tongue cleaning products in many pharmacies and drugstores: A tongue scraper, tongue brush, and tongue paste.
- Tongue scraper and tongue brush
The tongue scraper loosens the upper layer of the tongue coating, while the tongue brush also reaches the deeper levels. Both are particularly long and narrow, so they can be used to reach the back of the tongue without gagging.
The most suitable for effective tongue cleaning is a combination of both models: a tongue cleaner with a brush side and a scraper side. Use the brush side to thoroughly loosen the coating, then use the scraper side to gently remove it.
Place the tongue cleaner on the rear third of the tongue and then gently pull it forward towards the tip of the tongue. Apply only light pressure so as not to damage the sensitive surface of the tongue. Tongue cleaning should ideally be performed daily, in addition to brushing your teeth.
There are also special tongue cleaners for children. They are smaller than the models for adults and are equipped with particularly soft bristles to protect the more sensitive oral mucosa of children.
- Tongue paste
When cleaning the tongue, you can also apply a special tongue paste to the tongue cleaner. This allows additional active ingredients to be applied. In most cases, these are zinc compounds. They are supposed to neutralize the volatile sulfur compounds that are responsible for bad breath.
- Tongue aspirator at the dentist
Many dental practices now offer professional tongue cleaning with a so-called tongue aspirator. The treatment takes about five minutes and is a good alternative if you do not want to clean your tongue yourself.
Tongue coating: When do you need to see a doctor?
A coated tongue is usually harmless. However, it can also be a sign of certain diseases. As long as there are no complaints such as burning tongue, fever or a general feeling of illness and the tongue coating does not change significantly, you do not need to see a doctor.
However, if you notice changes, you should observe them for a few days. If the abnormalities do not disappear, you should have them clarified by your dentist or family doctor.
Tongue cleaning tips
Tongue cleaning follows tooth brushing. It completes the daily oral hygiene. It is important to be careful not to damage the surface of the tongue mucosa. A tongue scraper or tongue brush is used to “run” the tongue from front to back and back to front. During this process, the tongue should remain loose and be stuck out as far as possible.
Cleaning the back of the tongue is particularly important. This is because most bacteria are found in the last third of the tongue. But it is precisely there that cleaning should be particularly careful, so that no retching occurs. This is also the reason why a normal toothbrush is only suitable for tongue cleaning to a limited extent, as its height means that it hits the pharyngeal uvula and can trigger retching.
This is what you need to clean your tongue:
- Tongue brush/tongue scraper.
- Possibly some toothpaste or mouthwash.
Instructions for cleaning the tongue
- First, brush your teeth, use dental floss as well
- Dip the tongue brush in some mouthwash or use a small amount of toothpaste if needed
- Gently brush over the tongue from back to front and front to back
- Repeat brushing until the plaque on the tongue is loosened
- Finally, place the tongue scraper as far back as possible on the tongue and scrape forward
- Repeat the scraping until the coating is removed
- Rinse the mouth. That’s it!
Your dentist can give you tips on how to clean your tongue properly. During the semi-annual check-up in the dental practice, the practice team advises the patient individually.