How to Clean Your Tongue

A man scrubbing his tongue with his toothbrush.

So one of the major causes of bad breath is, in fact, your tongue. Your tongue is a bunch of spongy, absorbent muscles on which bacteria grows like crazy. You’ve heard it said that a dog’s mouth is cleaner than a human’s? And of course, you’ve heard the rebuttal: That can’t be true; a dog eats its own feces! Well, sad story folks—it is. The human mouth is a hotbed of filth, and the only thing we can do is try to keep it under control, and try to avoid biting people with any regularity. That just makes people think you’re a vampire.

Cleaning Your Tongue

  1. little kid brushing teethCollect your tools. Tongue scraping isn’t as unpleasant as it sounds. I promise, sandpaper is in no way involved. Here’s what you will need: mouthwash, a toothbrush, toothpaste, dental floss, and a tongue scraper. You can purchase a tongue scraper at most major general retail stores (Target, Walmart, etc.), or you can ask your dentist and he or she may just give you one absolutely free. Dentists are like that—express any interest in oral hygiene, and they’ll give it up like a desperate teenager. But be careful, folks. A dentist may insist on telling you how to use the thing, and I promise you, they will be far less interesting than me.
  2. bottle of mouthwashFind yourself a strong, mint-flavored mouthwash. (It doesn’t have to be minty; I just prefer mint to the other flavors out there. Honestly, if you can find something else that doesn’t taste like dog feces, go for it.) Usually a capful does the trick. Take a hit and swish it all around your mouth, between teeth, cheeks, and over and under your tongue. Most often this stings like crazy, but tough it out. Do this for sixty seconds—use a watch or clock. I’ve noticed when one is in intense minty-fresh agony, one tends to count faster than, y’know, time. Spit that stuff out and breathe a sigh of sweet, sweet relief.
  3. container of flossFloss-scrape: prelude to the scraping. Take a decently long piece of dental floss and scrape your tongue after you have rinsed out the mouthwash. Start at the back of your tongue, and gently pull forward with the floss until you reach the tip of your tongue. There’s no need to do this hard or painfully—this results in bleeding and possible tongue loss. Okay, kidding about the latter, but the former is possible. Instead of scraping hard, use the floss to scrape three or four times before you call it done. And while you’ve got the floss out, once you’re done scraping, take a new piece and floss those teeth. Make your dentist happy so the next time you need a cavity drilled or a root canal, he’ll give you actual Novocain instead of the placebo.
  4. closeup of a tongueBrush your tongue. Yep, you heard me. If it makes you more comfortable, brush your teeth first. Once you’ve got a good foam on, take the brush and clean your tongue with small, circular motions. Try to go as far back as you can without gagging, and be sure to brush the underside of your tongue as well. Once you’ve managed all this, rinse your mouth with water and then take another mouthwash rinse to purge your mouth of the scrapings and film. Don’t look at what you spit out or there may be a gagging problem again.
  5. tongue scraperUse your tongue scraper. Most look like a toothbrush that ends in a strange equilateral triangle. Here’s how it works: Stick your (fairly raw at this point) tongue through the hole of the tongue scraper and drag that sucker forward. Repeat this four or five times (rinsing the scraper in water thoroughly between each scraping), and try not to pull too hard, lest you injure yourself.
  6. water draining from sinkRinse your mouth out one final time with the mouthwash. This is going to sting, but once you’re done, you’ll have the sorest, cleanest tongue on the block. Feel free to show it off to friends and family, but especially to your dentist. Wash the tongue scraper with warm water and hand soap, rinse it thoroughly, towel dry, and store it in a dry place.

Frequency of Tongue Cleaning

This is not a daily exercise, and recommending doing so would result in a mob of tongue-less readers pounding on my door and scraping me to death with their tongue scrapers. I would advocate no more frequently than once a week, and no less than once a month. I also want to mention that things will taste a little funny for a few hours after going through this procedure, but this is like a deep tissue massage for your tongue: It hurts so good. Plus, your breath will have never smelled so good, so take advantage of it. Although, I’d steer clear of kissing your mail carrier as they may either a) stop bringing your mail, or b) like it so much that they bring you all the mail.

Natural Mouth and Tongue Cleaners

bottles of Tom's of Maine MouthwashTom’s of Maine mouthwash.Safe, all natural, and less intense than other brands. It’s tasty stuff, and it’s green. And according to all recent media reports, green is good—and good for the environment.

package of tom's of maine toothpasteTom’s of Maine toothpaste. Good stuff to use. It’s safe, environmentally friendly, sold in most retailers, and you can brush your teeth with it. You can get some Wicked Fresh Mouthwash from Amazon.

tongue scraperPreserve tongue scraper. A good natural tongue scraper alternative. Also, it’s available at most retailers and extremely inexpensive. One of the cool things about Preserve that I should mention is that you can send them the used scraper, and they’ll recycle it for you. Not too shabby!