The next time you eat something, have a drink, speak, swallow, or take medication sublingually, spare a thought for your tongue – without which, all the above activities would be almost or entirely impossible. The tongue doesn’t have it easy. Every day, it encounters myriad substances – food, beverages, medicine, microbes and more, which is why “tongue cleaning” – a term you may have never heard, but will soon appreciate – is so important.
What is the Tongue?
The tongue isn’t just a single piece of flesh—it’s an extremely mobile set of muscles, filled with sensitive nerves, and well-supplied with blood. Oblong in shape, tongue muscles are surrounded by connective tissue and an outer layer of mucus membrane.
The tongue is firmly rooted to the floor of the mouth, and connected by a number of muscles to the upper throat, the voice box, the lower jaw, and the voice box.
A unique arrangement of muscle fibres found in the tongue let it raise and lower, contract and extend, retract and protrude, form grooves, round itself, and change its resting position – movements which allow it to perform many its important functions.
Tongue Cleaning – Part of a Good Oral Hygiene Routine
We all know that daily flossing and brushing are important. But cleaning your tongue?
Well, the tongue is far from smooth (and with good reason—it’s lined with small bumps called papillae, better known as taste buds). The rough surface of the tongue makes it possible for you to taste things – but also allows debris to accumulate, including dead skin cells, food particles, and innumerable microorganisms.
A buildup of tongue debris – often appearing as a white, yellow or brown coating—doesn’t just look unpleasant. It can impair your sense of taste. It can cause halitosis (bad breath). Worst of all, it can make you sick.
The tongue, with its many bumps and grooves, plays host to microorganisms that can cause periodontal (gum) disease. Not only is that bad for your oral health – it may put your whole body at risk. Periodontal disease has been linked to stroke, diabetes, heart and respiratory disease, and kidney, blood and pancreatic cancer.
How to Clean Your Tongue The Right Way
A toothbrush is a tool for brushing your teeth – not your tongue. It’s tempting to think otherwise, and many people do. However, cleaning one’s tongue with a toothbrush will do little more than remove an inconsequential amount of debris.
Enter the tongue scraper – an oral hygiene device designed for scraping dead cells, food particles, fungi and bacteria from the surface of the tongue. Just as a toothbrush excels at cleaning teeth, a tongue scraper is incredibly effective at cleaning the tongue. In fact, research shows that the tongue’s bacterial count can be halved after a single day of tongue cleaning.
Types of Tongue Scrapers
There exist many types of tongue scraper, most are made of plastic, metal, or a combination of thereof. The most commonly used metals are stainless steel and copper, chosen for their durability, rust resistance, and in the case of copper, natural antimicrobial properties. Tongue scrapers range in size, some are only half the width of the average tongue, while others are large enough to scrape the whole tongue in one pass.
Some tongue scrapers have textured scraping surfaces; others utilize smooth metal or plastic. Although a smooth-edged scraping surface may be more comfortable to use, textured scrapers are more effective at removing debris from the irregular surface of the tongue.
Choosing a Tongue Scraper
There is no one ideal shape, size or combination of material. The best tongue scraper tool is the one you like well enough to use. That being said, many people prefer plastic scrapers – plastic being softer, more flexible and manoeuvrable than metal. However, metal tongue scrapers are more durable, longer-lasting, and less likely to retain odours or harbour microorganisms.
You may find that extra-wide scrapers, ones which span the entire width of the tongue, are slightly too large and cumbersome.
However, everyone is different, and most tongue scrapers are affordable enough that it’s possible to try a few different sizes and determine what suits you best. Always choose a scraper that’s comfortable to hold, use, that doesn’t irritate your tongue, and of course, that provides good results.
How to Use a Tongue Scraper
No research seems to suggest that cleaning a particular advantage to cleaning your tongue before or after brushing – when you do it is a matter of personal preference. Always rinse your tongue scraper with plain water, prior to and following use, to remove accumulated debris.
Open your mouth widely and extend your tongue fully. Place the scraper as far back down your throat as is comfortable (remember, the tongue is also connected to the throat, not just the mouth.) Begin by cleaning the back of your tongue, and work your way forward, toward the tip. Scrape the entire tongue – sides, top and centre surfaces.
Apply enough pressure to the scraper to cause mild (and only mild) discomfort.
Cleaning your tongue shouldn’t hurt, but for the practice to be effective, enough force has to be used. If your tongue remains sore, or bleeds, you’re overdoing it. Scrape until no debris is visible. Consider cleaning your tongue daily, or whenever it appears to be coated.
Most people become accustomed to the sensation of tongue scraping, and notice a marked improvement in their oral health.