Brushing and flossing your teeth twice a day helps prevent tooth decay, but what about your tongue?
Brushing your tongue can also help prevent tooth decay by removing harmful bacteria, which secrete acids that contribute to enamel demineralization and tooth decay.
Your tongue is far from flat, and its surface is like a mountain range of taste buds and complex structural elements. This creates many little nooks and crannies where bacteria can accumulate.
How Brushing Your Tongue Gets Rid of Bad Breath
Bad breath, or halitosis, is ultimately caused by bacteria. These microorganisms inside your mouth emit smelly chemicals like sulfur dioxide, methyl mercaptan, dimethyl sulfide, and cadaverine. There’s no single species of bacteria that creates bad breath. Instead, it’s the result of many kinds of bacteria, most of which are gram-negative.
Can’t I Just Rinse My Tongue?
Actually, no. The surface of your tongue develops a biofilm of bacteria, and the tiny pits and crevices are full of gram-negative bacteria that can emit unpleasant odors. Some of these bacteria are completely benign or even beneficial, while others are harmful. That white film that shows up sometimes on your tongue is a combination of bacteria, dead cells, and food debris.
When you rinse your mouth, whether it’s with water or mouthwash, you’re only rinsing away the outermost layer of your tongue’s bacteria biofilm. Brushing can physically remove this biofilm, eliminating halitosis and improving your overall oral health.
How Often Do I Need to Brush My Tongue?
You should brush your tongue every time you brush your teeth, which is usually twice a day. Some people choose to brush three times, once after each meal, which is even better. If your mouth feels dry or you have a bad taste in your mouth, go ahead and brush your tongue again. If you make a habit of brushing your tongue, you’ll notice that your breath smells fresher for longer.
How Do I Brush My Tongue?
Brushing your tongue is simple. Just take your toothbrush and carefully brush it back and forth and side to side, across the entire surface of your tongue. Try starting at the back, and working your way toward the front. If you gag a little, you’re going too far back into your throat, near the area that triggers the gag reflex. When you’re done, just rinse your mouth out with water. If you want, you can also use mouthwash.
Should I Use a Tongue Scraper?
There are tongue scraper devices available, which you’ll find in the same aisle as the toothbrushes, toothpaste, and floss. According to the American Dental Association, there’s no convincing evidence that tongue scrapers are more effective than a toothbrush for removing harmful bacteria from your tongue. However, many people do prefer to use them, and they certainly won’t hurt. Their efficacy is probably roughly equivalent to using a toothbrush to brush your tongue. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and they help peel the biofilm away from your tongue.
What If I Still Have Bad Breath?
If making a habit of brushing your tongue doesn’t get rid of bad breath, there are quite a few other potential causes of the problem. Halitosis has a broad range of differential diagnoses. In about 90% of cases, the source of the odor is in the mouth itself. It could be a sign of gum disease or tooth decay.
To be safe, it’s a good idea to make an appointment with your dentist. If you’re developing gingival pockets and gingivitis, or if you have a cavity, getting the problem treated can help freshen up your breath.