Tongue cleaning has been practiced in the Eastern world for hundreds of years. Studies suggest that cleaning your tongue regularly can reduce unwanted mouth bacteria that can lead to bad breath, a coated tongue, plaque buildup, and other oral health conditions.
Keep reading to learn more about these tongue cleaning methods, their benefits, and how to use them.
Best oral health practices
In addition to tongue cleaning, good oral health includes:
brushing your teeth twice a day using a toothpaste with fluoride
flossing your teeth daily
eating a well-balanced and nutritious diet
visiting your dentist at least twice a year for professional cleanings and an oral examination
Tongue scrapers are the most effective
Both tongue scrapers and toothbrushes can eliminate bacteria on the tongue, but most studies have found that using a tongue scraper is more effective than using a toothbrush.
A 2006 review examined two studies on tongue cleaning and bad breath and found that tongue scrapers and cleaners were more effective than toothbrushes in reducing the volatile sulfur compounds that cause breath odors.
Here’s how to clean your tongue using a tongue scraper:
- Select a tongue scraping instrument. This may be plastic or metal. It may be bent in half making a V shape or have a handle with a rounded edge at the top.Shop online for tongue scrapers.
- Stick out your tongue as far as you can.
- Place your tongue scraper toward the back of your tongue.
- Press the scraper on your tongue and move it toward the front of your tongue while applying pressure.
- Run the tongue scraper under warm water to clear any debris and bacteria from the device. Spit out any excess saliva that may have built up during the tongue scraping.
- Repeat steps 2 to 5 several more times. As needed, adjust your tongue scraper placement and the pressure you apply to it to prevent a gag reflex.
- Clean the tongue scraper and store it for the next use. You can scrape your tongue once or twice a day. If you gag during the process, you may want to scrape your tongue before eating breakfast to avoid vomiting.
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Although using a toothbrush may be less effective than using a tongue scraper, you may find it easier to use — especially if you’re already brushing your teeth twice a day.
Here’s how to clean your tongue with a toothbrush:
- Choose a soft-bristle toothbrush; shop for brushes online.
- Stick out your tongue as far as it will reach.
- Position your toothbrush at the back of the tongue.
- Brush lightly forward and backward along your tongue.
- Spit out saliva that appears during the brushing and rinse out the toothbrush with warm water.
- Clean your tongue as often as you brush your teeth.
You may want to brush with 1 part hydrogen peroxide and 5 parts water once a day if your tongue is discolored. You should rinse your mouth out with water following this type of cleaning.
Can oral mouth rinses clean your tongue?
Mouth rinses — especially when combined with toothbrushing — can help clean your tongue and other parts of your mouth.
Consider using a therapeutic mouthwash containing active ingredients to destroy bacteria in your mouth that may cause bad breath and other conditions. You can find mouthwashes over the counter or online.
You can also ask your doctor or dentist to prescribe one for you. Follow the mouthwash instructions for best oral care.
Benefits of cleaning your tongue
Several studies point to the benefits of cleaning your tongue:
Reduces sulfur compounds that cause bad breath
A 2004 study in the Journal of Periodontology concluded that using a tongue scraper helped reduce volatile sulfur compounds that cause bad breath. A tongue scraper removed 75 percent of these compounds and a toothbrush removed 45 percent of them.
Reduces bacteria on the tongue
A 2014 study in BMC Oral Health found that tongue cleaning reduced bacteria on the tongue but that levels only stayed low if the tongue cleaning occurred regularly. The article concluded that you should both brush your teeth and clean your tongue regularly for good oral health.
Contributes to a fresher-feeling mouth
The American Dental Association does not equate tongue cleaning with the reduction of bad breath, but it does conclude that cleaning your tongue can contribute to a fresher-feeling mouth that you might enjoy.
A 2013 study of plaque in children in the International Journal of Clinical Pediatric Dentistry found that regular tongue cleaning by either a toothbrush or scraper reduced plaque levels.
May alter taste perceptions
Tongue cleaning may alter your taste perceptions, particularly of sucrose and citric acid, according to one study.
When to see a dentist
If you notice any unusual changes to your tongue, you should visit a doctor or dentist. For example, visit a doctor if your tongue:
- looks white or develops white patches; some conditions causing this include oral thrush, leukoplakia, oral lichen planus, and oral cancer
- looks red or develops red or pink patches; this may be geographic tongue or another condition
- appears smooth or glossy
- looks yellow, black, or hairy
- is hurt from trauma
- is sore or develops sores or lumps that don’t resolve after a few weeks
- severe burns
Whether you use a tongue scraper, toothbrush, or oral mouth rinse, tongue cleaning is a good addition to your daily oral health practices. Cleaning your tongue once or twice a day may help you reduce bad breath and the risk of cavities as well as contribute to a clean mouth feeling. If you notice any unusual changes to your tongue, don’t hesitate to talk to a doctor or a dentist.References:
Almas K, et al. (2005). The effect of tongue scraper on mutans streptococci and lactobacilli in patients with caries and periodontal disease [Abstract].
3 colors your tongue should not be. (2016)
Danser MM, et al. (2003). Tongue coating and tongue brushing: A literature review.
Does tongue scraping actually work, and should I be doing it. (2018).
Matsui M, et al. (2014). Effects of tongue cleaning on bacteria flora in tongue coating and dental plaque: A crossover study. DOI:
Mayo Clinic Staff. (2012). Basic remedies relive hairy tongue and other common tongue changes.
Mayo Clinic Staff. (2016). Oral health: Brush up on dental care basics.
Mayo Clinic Staff. (2018). Yellow tongue: When to see a doctor.
Mouthwash (mouthrinse). (2019).
Outhouse TL, et al. (2006). A Cochrane systematic review finds tongue scrapers have short-term efficacy in controlling halitosis.
Pedrazzi V, et al. (2004). Tongue-cleaning methods: A comparative clinical trial employing a toothbrush and a tongue scraper. DOI:
Salinas TJ. (2018). Bad breath: Could a tongue scraper help?
Taking care of your teeth and mouth. (2016).
Tongue scrapers and cleaners. (n.d.).
What your tongue can tell you about your health. (2015).
Winner JJ, et al. (2013). The comparative evaluation of the effects of tongue cleaning on existing plaque levels in children.