Have you ever had your friends turn away while you’re talking to them or your significant other not longing for that goodnight kiss? Ever thought this could be because you have bad breath?
Yes, no matter how many times you sneak in an extra tooth brushing after a meal, you will probably never get rid of lingering bad breath until you’ve learned how to clean your tongue the right way.
When it comes to improving oral health, most people believe brushing and flossing are all it takes. However, if you’re not cleaning your tongue, you’re neglecting an extremely important part of good oral hygiene practices.
Cleaning your teeth is important to prevent or curb a number of dental problems, but it is just not enough to get rid of all the harmful bacteria in the mouth. This is because your tongue carries the largest amount of bacteria of any oral tissue. (1)
Failure to keep the tongue clean can lead to problems like dry mouth, tongue discoloration, soreness, a change in taste, crevices, and even bumps.
So, if you don’t want to drink heaps of mouthwash, constantly suck on mints or devour toothpaste, you best switch to a thorough cleaning routine. Optimal oral hygiene calls for proper cleaning of the teeth along with that of the tongue.
At the very minimum, each time you brush your teeth, give your tongue a swipe as well. Better yet, you can use either of the following methods to clean your tongue the right way.
- Method 1: Basic Cleaning
- Method 2: Oil Pulling
- Additional Tips
Method 1: Basic Cleaning
To prevent bad breath and that white coating on your tongue, proper care and cleaning of the tongue are needed.
The tongue harbors a plethora of bacteria, germs, and food particles that are trapped under a thin buildup of mucus. The mucus-based mass of debris leads to conditions like bad breath and a whitish residue on the tongue, giving it a filthy appearance.
However, it is easy to remove this buildup from your tongue by simply using the bristles of your toothbrush or a tongue scraper for more thorough cleaning.
A tongue scraper is a cleaning tool made of soft, flexible plastic or steel that gently peels the mucus-based layer of bacteria and food particles off the tongue.
Basic cleaning of your tongue involves five basic steps.
Step 1. Clean your tongue with a scraper
Begin with cleaning your tongue with a tongue scraper.
- Grab the scraper and begin scraping from the back to the tip of the tongue.
- After each stroke, rinse the scraper under warm water.
- Work slowly with light pressure on the center of the tongue, where most of the odor-causing bacteria lay.
- Do not press too hard while scraping, lest it may cause your tongue to bleed.
- Repeat the procedure 5 times. (1)
Step 2. Rinse your mouth with water
- Once you’re done with the first step, rinse your mouth with clean water.
- Take a good swig of water and swish it around in your mouth for a minute, moving it under your tongue, between your teeth and across the roof of your mouth.
- Spit out the water after swishing. Do not swallow or gargle with this water.
Step 3. Apply toothpaste evenly across the surface of your tongue
- Put some toothpaste on your fingertip and smear it liberally across the surface of your tongue, reaching as far back as you can. (2)
- It would be great if you can leave the toothpaste on your tongue while you proceed to brush your teeth. However, if you cannot tolerate it, spit it as soon as you begin to feel uncomfortable.
Step 4. Scrape your tongue to remove the excess toothpaste
Whether you’ve managed to hold the toothpaste on your tongue or not, it is time for a second scrape.
- Scrape the tongue as described in the first step, but this time, scraping off the excess toothpaste.
- Rinse your mouth well with lukewarm water.
Step 5. Rinse with a mouthwash
Finish the tongue cleaning process with a final rinse with an antibacterial mouthwash. Use a mild mouthwash. A harsh one may lead to a burning sensation on the freshly scraped tongue.
- Sip some mouthwash and swish it in around your mouth for a good 30 seconds.
- Spit out the mouthwash and rinse your mouth again with water.
Repeat this 5-step routine once daily to prevent bad breath and get rid of that white residue.
If the basic cleaning technique does not help you, consult a doctor as this may indicate a bigger bacterial problem.
Method 2: Oil Pulling
Oil pulling is one of the most effective remedies for cleaning your mouth, including your tongue.
Oil pulling gets its name because it literally pulls the toxins, bacteria, and pathogens out of the various tissues in the mouth. It can also eliminate the yeast from oral thrush. (3)
While olive, sesame or sunflower oil can be used for oil pulling, coconut oil claims an upper hand with its antifungal properties that actually kill the yeast in the mouth.
Coconut oil contains caprylic acid, which is responsible for its natural antifungal properties and makes it an excellent remedy for tongue cleaning.
Single-Step Treatment: Swish coconut oil around in your mouth
- Put 1 tablespoon of extra-virgin coconut oil in your mouth before brushing your teeth in the morning.
- Swish it around in your mouth – between your teeth, under your tongue and across the roof of your mouth. As you swish the oil, it collects and traps toxins and pathogens.
- Do this for 15 minutes or until the oil thins and turns milky in color.
- Spit out the oil in the trash, then rinse your mouth with warm water.
- Grab a scraper and scrape the surface of your tongue from the back forward.
- Repeat once daily for improved oral health.
- Do oil pulling on an empty stomach. (3)
- Do not gargle or swallow the oil. By the time you finish swishing, the oil is full of toxins and pathogens. So, it is important to spit it out.
- Dispose of the oil in the trash. Do not spit it out in the sink, as it can clog up the drain.
- Clean your tongue on an empty stomach early in the morning, as this is the time when your tongue is covered in the white film of toxins.
- Just use a simple tongue scraper. Fancy scrapers available online are unnecessarily complex.
- You may experience a gag reflex the first few days that you clean your tongue. With time and practice, it will diminish.
- Drink plenty of water throughout the day to keep the tongue clean and prevent deposits on the tongue.
- Regularly gargle after meals to prevent the accumulation of food debris on the tongue.
- Eat fruits and vegetables like guavas, apples, strawberries, and carrots that naturally help clean a white-coated tongue.
- Avoid drinking, smoking, and using tobacco products. They tend to discolor the tongue and leave a coating of bacteria.
- Avoid excess consumption of sugary foods and dairy products that may also coat the tongue.
- Winnier JJ, Rupesh S, Nayak UA, Reddy V, Prasad Rao A. The comparative evaluation of the effects of tongue cleaning on existing plaque levels in children. International journal of clinical pediatric dentistry. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4086606/. Published September 2013.
- Aung EE, Ueno M, Zaitsu T, Furukawa S, Kawaguchi Y. Effectiveness of three oral hygiene regimens on oral malodor reduction: a randomized clinical trial. Trials. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4324034/. Published January 27, 2015.
- Shanbhag VKL. Oil pulling for maintaining oral hygiene - A review. Journal of traditional and complementary medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5198813/. Published June 6, 2016.