A deeper look into tongue cleaning

April 11, 2014

By Jordan D. Davis, DDS

In my experience, tongue cleaning is a practice that is not highly discussed or valued within the dental community.

While tongue cleaning is not at the forefront of most dentists’, hygienists’ or patients’ minds in the United States, it is commonplace among natives of Africa, Arabia, India, and a host of other regions. In these areas, the cleanliness of the entire mouth is emphasized. As such, tongue cleaning has become an integral part of the oral care routine.

So how does it begin to gain traction here in the United States? It starts by educating patients on the health benefits of proper tongue hygiene.

According to the American Dental Association (ADA), bad breath affects up to 50 percent of the adult population in the United States, and an estimated 60 million Americans suffer from chronic halitosis. To fight oral malodor, the American public spends billions of dollars annually on gum, mints, and breath fresheners. These temporary solutions, however, only mask the underlying problem.

A study at the State University of New York at Buffalo School of Dental Medicine found that 80 to 90 percent of bad breath comes from bacteria on the tongue. In fact, the tongue is “the largest niche for microorganisms in the oral cavity … [providing] a large surface area favouring the accumulation of oral debris,” according to “Tongue coating and tongue brushing: a literature review,” published in the International Journal of Dental Hygiene.

Focusing on patients’ halitosis concerns may be the most marketable way to present the benefits of tongue cleaning: Clean your tongue, have better breath. While it does not replace the tried-and-true brushing and flossing combination, proper tongue hygiene can complement patients’ oral care routines and contribute to healthier, cleaner mouths.

For many, the toothbrush presented to patients has served as an adequate tool, but toothbrushes are designed for the smooth surfaces of the teeth, not the uneven crevices of the tongue. There are a variety of products designed specifically to combat bacteria on the tongue, such as Dr. Tung’s Stainless Steel Tongue Cleaner and the DenTek Comfort Clean Tongue Cleaner, which feature cleaning edges to scrape away bacteria. The Orabrush Tongue Cleaner combines micro-pointed bristles with a built-in scraper to dislodge and remove bacteria.

Whatever your instrument of choice, it is time we begin accompanying our toothbrush gifts with a tongue cleaner in tow.

Dr. Jordan D. Davis is originally from Idaho Falls, ID. He received his undergraduate degree in psychology at the University of Utah in 2006 and graduated from Creighton School of Dentistry in 2011 where he received honors as the most outstanding operative dentist. Dr. Davis also received additional training in oral and maxillofacial surgery at the Wexner Medical Center at Ohio State University. Dr. Davis is a member of the American Dental Association, Utah Dental Association, South Davis Dental Society, Academy of LDS Dentists, and the American Academy of Facial Esthetics.