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A Guide to Cleaning Your Tongue and Avoiding Bad Breath

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The tongue is a vital part of the digestive system that assists the teeth in chewing and ensuring everything passes through the oesophagus. Despite playing an important role, however, many only take good care of their tongue once it becomes a problem, with having bad breath or mouth ulcers being two of the most common tongue problems we face.

That’s the reason why cleaning the tongue is just as important as brushing your teeth. To avoid any tongue problems in the future, read on to find out how you can clean your tongue properly and what effective tools to use for this crucial oral health routine:

Do you need to brush your tongue?  

As mentioned earlier, brushing your tongue is essential to keep bacteria from wreaking havoc in your mouth. Food residue can accumulate on your teeth and lower parts of the tongue. Rinsing with water can help, but it won’t remove all the food particles.

Dentists recommend lightly brushing the tongue. While using a toothbrush is enough, some toothbrush bristles can irritate or damage the tongue’s upper layer.

Tongue scrapers and tongue brushes are specially designed to clean the tongue. These tools are now more common and can be found in supermarkets and drug stores. They help reduce bad breath and the number of bacteria in your mouth, keeping it safe from oral health problems.

Benefits of using a tongue brush or scraper  

Most dentists agree that a toothbrush is enough to clean the tongue. However, dental manufacturers have developed tongue brushes and scrapers designed to clean the tongue without damaging it.

These are some other benefits of cleaning your tongue with a tongue brush or scraper:

  • Reduced bacteria population. Bacteria will always stick to the tongue, consuming any food particles they find. A tongue scraper or brush can remove them, keeping their numbers in control and preventing them from causing oral health problems.
  • Avoid bad breath. The most effective way to prevent bad breath is to clean your tongue after brushing your teeth. Aside from smelly foods, bacteria is the leading cause of bad breath, and a dry mouth is a perfect place for bacteria to thrive. Spend a few minutes cleaning your tongue after brushing your teeth to keep this from happening.

Tongue problems: signs and symptoms 

Not cleaning your tongue will certainly lead to different tongue problems. Some of the signs and symptoms of an unhealthy tongue are:

  • Loss of taste. There are many reasons why one can lose their sense of taste, with colds, flu, nutrient deficiency, and various medications being some of the top causes. However, once you’re able to rule out all of these, the culprit could be an infection in the mouth or some other oral health issues involving your tongue. Keep in mind that tasting is one of the five main functions of the tongue, and if you lose your sense of taste, there’s a good chance that your tongue is involved.
  • Swelling. Tongue swelling is either a symptom or a cause. You’ll feel it when you find it difficult to speak, eat or swallow. An infection can make your tongue swell and change color from pale pink to red when inflamed.
  • Tongue paralysis. Nerve damage causes tongue paralysis, which is dangerous when eating and chewing food. That’s because someone suffering from tongue paralysis can easily choke, as the tongue helps with swallowing. Furthermore, the tongue also aids with how we speak and pronounce words, which means someone with tongue paralysis would have a problem speaking. If you’re having some trouble speaking or swallowing, you might have tongue paralysis, and the best thing to do in this situation is to consult your doctor immediately. Although therapy can treat tongue paralysis, some underlying problems might need to be addressed ASAP.
  • Colour patches. Sometimes, tongue discolouration can occur. Food is often the culprit, but it can also be due to other things. The tongue’s normal color is pink with a whitish coating on the surface. If your tongue turns red, you might have nutrient deficiencies, Kawasaki disease, or scarlet fever. Meanwhile, heart and pulmonary disease can make your tongue look slightly purplish due to the lack of oxygen flow. You will need immediate medical attention. Jaundice can turn your tongue yellow due to the body’s high production of a yellow pigment called bilirubin. White spots on the tongue and the inner parts of your cheek are due to yeast colonies or fungal infections. Visit a dentist to treat it immediately. Poor oral hygiene often leads to dead skin cell accumulation on the tongue, making it look hairy or black. Clean your tongue well to clear it up.

How to clean your tongue  

The tongue is an essential part of the mouth and the digestive system, so take the time to clean it.

Tongue brushes and scrapers help keep the tongue clean and remove harmful bacteria. Follow these steps to clean your tongue properly using your tongue brush or scraper.

  • Stick your tongue out, and keep it relaxed. Let it stretch to allow your tongue brush or scraper to reach all areas.
  • Place the tongue scraper at the back of your tongue, near the tonsils, facing towards the tip.
  • Move the scraper or brush carefully away from the back of your tongue towards the front. Don’t rush the scraper; otherwise, you might irritate your tongue. Rinse your scraper or brush, then repeat.


The tongue is an important part of the digestive system and the mouth. Unfortunately, its care is often overlooked, leading to different tongue problems.

Keeping your tongue clean is easy and helps prevent bad breath and other oral problems. You may use your toothbrush, tongue brush, or scraper. Whichever you choose, make sure to always clean it from the very back to the front. If you’re using a scraper, don’t rush; otherwise, you’ll irritate your tongue.

Ellen Diamond did her degree in psychology at the University of Hertfordshire. She is interested in mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.

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