Why Brushing Your Tongue Should Be Part of Your Oral Care Routine

7 minute read

You know you should brush your teeth twice a day, and your dentist is always pushing you to floss that often too, but has anyone told you to brush your tongue lately? If they haven’t, chances are they don't know about the benefits of doing so.

Brushing your tongue can be just as important in the battle against bacteria and mouth disease as brushing your teeth. In fact, it could be even more important.

Why Brush Your Tongue?

While your tongue can’t develop cavities, it gets bombarded by exactly the same cavity-causing bacteria that your teeth do. In fact, bacteria can accumulate on your tongue very quickly, and it can hide there for a long time.

There can be up to 100 billion bacteria, and 700 different kinds of them, living in your mouth. As we know, not all bacteria are bad, but those bad ones can really do some damage. They are attracted to your tongue and find spots to hide. Once there, the bacteria can thrive and cause the following problems:

Bad Breath: This is the most frequent problem that arises from an unclean tongue that becomes home to harmful bacteria.

Diminished Taste: A coating of bacteria creates a biofilm that covers your taste buds, making them less effective.

Black Hairy Tongue: Leftover particles and bacteria stain and irritate the papillae on your tongue. This looks atrocious but clears up with regular tongue cleaning.

Thrush: This is a yeast infection that happens in your mouth. It can be caused by bacteria on the tongue, or it can also be caused by certain medications. An antifungal medication typically cures it.

| Related: Why Antibiotics Can Make Oral Infections Worse |

Periodontal Disease: When bacteria spreads to your teeth and gums, you risk developing periodontal disease. In the past, it was believed that periodontal disease was just a risk to your teeth. New research is proving that periodontal disease is much more dangerous than initially suspected, and is directly tied to heart disease.

Now that you understand how important it is to clean your tongue, the next step is to figure out how best to accomplish this.

How to Clean Your Tongue

Brushing your tongue should become a part of your brushing routine, meaning you should do it every single time you brush. Make sure to brush gently, brushing with too much pressure or too vigorously can damage the fragile skin on your tongue.

Brushing your tongue with a toothbrush:

♦ Brush back and forth

♦ Brush side to side

♦ Rinse with water

Brushing your tongue with a tongue scraper:

♦ Place the tongue scraper on the back of the tongue

♦ Gently bring the scraper forward

♦ Repeat several times

While you can use a tongue scraper, and some toothbrushes even have one on the handle, the American Dental Association does not recommend this as the only approach to cleaning your tongue as there is no real evidence of its effectiveness. Tongue brushing is still the preferred method of cleaning.

Complete Oral Care Routine

If this leaves you a little confused about what you should or should not be doing with your oral care routine, you’re not alone. Not everyone is up-to-date on the latest information on oral health, and established methods are not always the best for your health.

The following guidelines give you a standard to strive for optimal oral health. It’s understandable that you may not always be able to do your complete oral routine, but at least you now have one to refer to and know what to aim for.

Brush your teeth: Brush at least twice a day with fluoride toothpaste. If you can, brush as soon as possible after eating. When you brush your teeth, spend at least two minutes brushing. It’s best to divide your mouth into quadrants and spend 30 seconds on each one. Hold the brush at a 45° angle pointed toward your gums.

Brush your tongue as a part of your toothbrush routine: You can use a scraper to add some extra cleaning power, but don’t use the scraper in place of the brush.

Rinse or gargle with water or mouthwash: This will thoroughly remove any loosened debris from your mouth and tongue.

Clean between your teeth or floss your teeth at least once a day: It’s recommended that you use 18 inches of floss and wrap each end around your fingers to comfortably reach all teeth. Follow the curve of your teeth to avoid causing any damage to the gums. Each tooth needs to be flossed.

Clean between your teeth or floss your teeth at least once a day: It’s recommended that you use 18 inches of floss and wrap each end around your fingers to comfortably reach all teeth. Follow the curve of your teeth to avoid causing any damage to the gums. Each tooth needs to be flossed.

Rinse again: Use mouthwash or water again to remove additional bacteria and debris that was removed when you flossed. If you’re using mouthwash, try to hold it in your mouth for about 30 seconds while thoroughly swishing, then spit.

Watch what you eat and drink: Try to limit your sugary snacks and drinks as these promote bacterial growth and can lead to cavities. Aim to hit the eight 8-ounces of water guidelines to help remove bacteria throughout the day and to prevent dry mouth.

The Bottom Line

Even if you think you’re the best toothbrusher around, you might still be plagued by bacteria and cavities. Your tongue makes a great home for bacteria, not only giving them a place to live but also a place to grow and thrive.

If not dealt with, the bacteria on your tongue can lead to several different oral conditions, the most serious of which is periodontal disease. While a tongue scraper might seem like a good solution, and it’s possible that it can aid in your cleaning efforts, it should not be used in place of brushing your tongue.

Proper tongue brushing involves using fluoride toothpaste, brushing front to back and side to side. Reach back as far on the tongue as you can comfortably reach. Don’t risk injuring your skin by brushing too forcefully or vigorously. Brush your tongue every time you brush your teeth.

Following a regular oral care routine that focuses on good hygiene is the best way to battle bacteria in your mouth. In a good routine, tongue brushing should always be included.

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