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Treating Bad Breath - Tongue Cleaning

Usually the single most important step you can take toward curing your halitosis is cleaning your tongue more thoroughly. This page explains why and how.

As a first step ... any person making an attempt to improve the quality of their breath should always start off by initiating a regimen of proper tongue cleaning (either brushing or scraping). In most instances, it's likely that this will be the only cure that's needed.

Why is tongue cleaning so important?

Cleaning your tongue, especially the back part, gives you an opportunity to rid yourself of what's probably the largest refuge of odor producing bacteria in your mouth.

Remember the breath tests we outlined at the beginning of this topic?

If you did them, you probably found out that the tip portion (anterior part) of your tongue smelled a whole lot better than the back (posterior region). There's a simple explanation for this.

a) The anterior portion of your tongue is fairly self-cleansing.

The tip part of your tongue is relatively self-cleansing and therefore unlikely to harbor large numbers of odor producing bacteria.

Many tongue functions (swallowing, speaking) place it in firm contact with your hard palate. This friction creates a cleansing action that prevents any significant build up of bacteria and debris on it.The back part of the tongue accumulates debris.

b) The posterior portion is not.

In comparison, the back part of your tongue only touches (at most) your soft palate. And any contact that does take place is relatively gentle.

As a result, your tongue movements don't create enough friction to result in any significant cleansing. Debris, including the bacteria that cause bad breath, will tend to build up in this region.

This is why cleaning your tongue in general, and the back part specifically, can be so effective in curing bad breath.

Look for yourself.

This accumulation is easy enough to see. Just stick your tongue out and look for the white, or even brownish, film on its surface. Like we show in our illustrations, it's usually triangular in shape with its broadest aspect covering across the back part of your tongue.

How to clean your tongue.

When cleaning your tongue, you have two options. You can either brush or scrape it (or both). Whichever method is used, the overall goal and result is exactly the same.

The most common cause of bad breath.

a) Clean as far back as possible.You should generally try to reach as far back as possible when cleaning your tongue.

Don't be surprised if you find that you have an active gag reflex. If you do, over time there's a good chance that it will diminish.

b) How often do you need to do it?

You should clean your tongue at least once a day. Considering how little time it takes, however, it's not a bad idea to just go ahead and do it every time you clean your teeth.

Option #1: Tongue brushing.

If you choose brushing as the method you'll use, you don't have to buy anything special to get started. You can just use your regular toothbrush.Then, if you decide that this is the right technique for you, next time you're out shopping you can look at the specially-designed tongue brushes that your local drugstore carries. You may or may not decide that they look like they will do a better job than the one you already own.

Here's how to do it:

Moisten your brush so its bristles soften up.

Stick your tongue out and take a look at it (look for the white, possibly even brown, coating). This will give you an idea of what you are trying to remove and where it is.

Start as far back as possible and make brush strokes across your tongue that break up and remove the debris that's accumulated on it.

You'll need to use some pressure but, of course, not enough to irritate your tongue.

Stick your tongue out again and evaluate your results. Brush some more if you need to.

Rinse your mouth out when you're finished.

You can use something on your brush if you want.

You may be able to improve the effectiveness of your technique by using toothpaste or dipping your brush in mouthwash. (Just brushing is the really important step, the use of a product much less so.)

In general, products containing the following types of compounds should make a comparatively more effective choice.

a) Those that neutralize volatile sulfur compounds.It's the stinky volatile sulfur compounds (VSC's) produced by anaerobic bacteria that actually cause bad breath. Products that contain VSC-neutralizing agents, such as chlorine dioxide or zinc, therefore can be useful.

b) Those that have antibacterial properties. Look for products that contain the antibacterials chlorine dioxide or cetylpyridinium.

Option #2: Tongue scraping

Many people find that cleaning their tongue with a tongue scraper is more effective than using a brush. As an added benefit, some people find that they have less of a tendency to gag when using one.Try this as a test.

It's easy enough to experiment with this method.

Pick out a spoon. Smaller is usually better than larger.

Moisten it (so the gunk you scrape off washes off it easier).Turn the spoon upside down, place it at the very back of your tongue and draw it forward.

Be thorough but gentle. Don't scrape so hard that you irritate your tongue.

Tongue cleaning using a tongue scraper.

Most people will find that they've scraped off a lot of whitish goo. You might try smelling it. This is what your breath smells like to others.

Tongue scrapers.

If you like the idea of scraping your tongue, you could just continue on using a spoon. A lot of times they really make a pretty good scraper.

If you prefer, the next time you're out shopping you might look in its dental section to see what type of specially-designed scrapers they sell. You may find that using one is more effective (scrapes off more gunk) or is easier to use.

While there's usually no shortage of different designs to choose from, there's no hard or fast rule about how to pick one. Just pick out the kind that looks right to you. The one that looks like it would be most effective or easiest to use.