How to Clean Your Tongue and Improve Your Oral Health

Dr. Sheila Dobee

Family, Cosmetic and Implant Dentist

Date : 07/05/2020

Sure, we all like to think we have good oral health. While brushing your teeth twice a day and occasionally flossing is commendable, the truth is you can be doing so much more. Learning how to clean your tongue can help improve your dental hygiene. It can also prevent gum disease, improve bad breath, and much more.

Why You Should Learn How to Clean Your Tongue

Your mouth is full of bacteria: nearly 700 different kinds, to be exact. Nearly half of these bacteria live on your tongue. Not all are harmful, but when bad ones do appear they set up camp and multiply. Your tongue is not flat; there are a number of elevations and crevices that are the perfect place for bacteria to hide. These bacteria can cause some real damage to both your health and your confidence.

A healthy tongue appears pink. If you notice a stark discoloration, it is time to contact a doctor. Bacteria can also cause a film to form over your tongue; if this persists for longer than two weeks, you should seek help. Persistent tongue pain and white areas on the surface of your tongue are also cause for alarm. And even if something just feels off, there is no harm in scheduling an appointment with your dentist. Better to be safe than sorry.

Mouthwash Does Not Always Work

Another reason why you should learn how to clean your tongue is because your current oral hygiene routine may not actually be effective. While you may think that simply rinsing your mouth with water or mouthwash is enough to clean your tongue, this is not the case. The bacteria living on your tongue are able to stick together on the surface, making them hard to simply rinse away. When the liquid you are swishing around in your mouth is able to target some bacteria, only the outer cells are removed. The cells beneath the surface can still thrive. And thrive they do.

Benefits of Cleaning Your Tongue

There are a number of great benefits you can expect to experience once you regularly clean your tongue. A few of the most significant ones are listed below.
1) No More Halitosis

The number one problem experienced by those who do not clean their tongue is bad breath – otherwise known as halitosis. Once the bacteria begin to grow, they can easily lead to an overgrowth. This overgrowth of bacteria gives off a foul smell. Nobody wants to suffer from bad breath, nor be around someone with the problem.

The bacteria that produce the worst smells are typically found on the back of your tongue. This is why it is important to reach as far back as you can when cleaning your tongue. It can be difficult at first, but with some practice this will get much easier.

2) Improves Your Sense of Taste

As we discussed above, bacteria can form a film that coats your tongue. Combined with food particles and dead skin, this coating can cover up your taste buds. This leads to a dulled sense of taste.

The good news is that once you clean your tongue, your taste buds will be back to normal without suffering from any permanent damage. If only our other senses worked like this too.

3) Prevent Black Hairy Tongue

Yes, this condition is as gross as it sounds. When you eat or drink certain foods, like coffee, your tongue can become stained. When these food or drink particles do not get brushed away, your tongue will take on a dark, furry appearance. While not harmful, it is unsettling to look at. A simple solution is to brush your teeth and clean your tongue well.

4) Prevent Yeast Infection (in Your Mouth)

If you never learn how to clean your tongue, you may come down with oral thrush, the medical term for a yeast infection in your mouth. This infection develops when the bacteria in your mouth gets out of control, usually when you are not brushing your teeth or cleaning your tongue. Oral thrush will present as white patches on your tongue. If you notice this, you should see a doctor as soon as possible. They will prescribe you an antifungal medicine, which can be applied to treat the infection.

5) Prevent Periodontal Disease

When your tongue is covered in bacteria, the bacteria can spread to your teeth. This can cause gingivitis or inflamed gums. If you don’t treat this inflammation, it can progress to periodontal disease, which is a condition that causes the gums to pull away from the teeth. The space created from your gums pulling away can become infected. This can lead to your teeth falling out. It has also been linked to a higher risk of heart attack, stroke, and miscarriages.

How to Clean Your Tongue

Now that you understand the importance of cleaning your tongue, you will have to learn how to clean your tongue. Fortunately, this is a pretty simple process once you buy the right tool.

1) Pick a Tool Style

When learning how to clean your tongue, you will need to figure out what type of tool to use. There are a number of different ones to choose from. The most common tools are scrapers and toothbrushes. Researchers have found that both tongue scrapers and toothbrushes are equally effective. There are even a few options that combine a brush with a scraper. This dual-purpose tool may provide you with the best cleaning experience.

2) Determine the Material

Once you have decided what tool to use, you will need to figure out what material you want the device to be made of. The most common materials are metal, plastic, and silicon.

Stainless steel and copper are the two most common metals used to make tongue scrapers. Their major benefit is that they can be placed in hot water to be sterilized and are long lasting; once you buy a metal tongue scraper there is little chance of it needing to be replaced. Plastic scrapers are much less expensive than the metal ones but they are not as durable and need to be replaced more often. Silicon devices are the least common but are also a comfortable option.

3) Compare Brands

Once you have decided on the exact model of tongue scraper you want to purchase, you will need to determine the brand. In order to decide what product to purchase you will need to consider pricing, aesthetics, and online reviews. You can try looking online to find any coupons as a decrease in price may be the deciding factor. You should also ask your dentist for any recommendations of which brand they prefer.

4) Buy the Tool

This may seem obvious, but before you can learn how to clean your tongue, you will need to buy the tool to clean your tongue with. Most grocery stores and pharmacies sell tongue scrapers. If you cannot find the brand you decided upon in a store, you will probably have better luck online.

5) Stick Out Your Tongue

When starting the cleaning process, you should stick your tongue out as far as you can. This allows you to be able to clean as much of it as possible. By sticking your tongue out, you are helping to prevent yourself from gagging.

You will then use the tongue scraper to scrape your tongue from back to front. Do not go from front to back. Repeat this process until your tongue feels clean all over. You will get a buildup of residue on your tongue scraper. Simply rinse it off and continue. Don’t push too hard on the scraper or you will break the skin. And don’t forget to take your time, cleaning your tongue is not a race. It should take you a few minutes to clean your tongue.

You should clean your tongue every morning before eating or drinking. If possible, you should clean your tongue twice a day. Incorporating cleaning your tongue into your daily routine will help you develop a habit.

You may also elect to use a toothbrush instead of a tongue scraper to clean your tongue. If so, follow these steps:

  • Brush back and forth
  • Brush side to side
  • Rinse your mouth out with water afterwards

The benefit of using a toothbrush to clean your tongue is that you can easily incorporate it into your routine; you are already brushing your teeth, why not clean your tongue as well?

While you don’t need to use toothpaste, using it can be less abrasive and can make the cleaning more effective.  On the plus side, you get the extra minty-fresh taste.


Cleaning your tongue is easy, especially when you understand how to do it correctly. While it may seem like cleaning your tongue adds some extra steps into your morning routine, it can actually help prevent a lot of problems. If left untreated, these problems can require a number of visits to your dentist, as well as some unpleasant side-effects. Incorporate tongue-scraping into your oral hygiene regimen today and enjoy the great benefits of this healthy practice.