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The Best Things for Cleaning Your Tongue, According to Dentists and Hygienists

Photo: TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images

Sure, we all know that you should brush your teeth twice a day (and use floss and other tools to clean between them). But what the official word on tongue cleaning? Per the American Dental Association, there is no evidence it’ll keep away bad breath or fix halitosis, but they do say doing so can be “a great way to go the extra mile for your mouth.” We, of course, are all about going that extra mile. And, as dentist Dr. Mark Burhenne says, “I believe that more evidence is coming [on the efficacy of tongue cleaning], but for now, we have to place more weight in clinical knowledge and experience of many dentists who agree that scraping your tongue has value for oral health.”

“The tongue is like a carpet — it collects a lot of junk and should be cleaned every day,” according to noted cool dentist Dr. Jennifer Plotnick. She says that what you’re actually cleaning are the “papillae,” or the little fleshy structures that coat the tongue’s surface, which are where dead cells, food debris, and bacteria can accumulate and ultimately cause bad breath. And if that doesn’t make you want to reach for the tongue scraper, we’re not sure what will. Below, the dentists, dental hygienists, and otolaryngologists we talked to recommend the best tools for cleaning your tongue.

Best overall tool for cleaning your tongue

All of the experts we spoke to agreed that you should clean your tongue at least once a day, and most said that a simpler routine is better. One great option is a toothbrush (which we’ll get to in a minute), but if you really want to get down to the nitty gritty of tongue cleaning, you can’t beat a metal tongue scraper like this one. Dr. Michelle Yagoda, attending otolaryngologist and facial plastic surgeon at Lenox Hill Hospital, says that tongue brushes and scrapers can be used to treat physiologic halitosis, the origin of which is “often post-nasal drip, gastroesophageal reflux, or poor dental hygiene.” If you suspect any of these issues is causing your bad breath, Yagoda also suggests treating those directly — but in the meantime, a scraper will really help alleviate bad breath.

Plotnick also recommends Dr. Tung’s scraper, but says that “any stainless-steel scraper will do.” She notes that plastic scrapers are less durable and harder to sterilize. To get the most out of your tongue scraping, Plotnick encourages patients to use the tool first thing in the morning, and says for the best results you should stick your tongue out all the way and scrape from the very back to the tip, never in reverse. “Rinse the scraper after each pass to avoid re-depositing any debris back on the tongue,” she says. “Keep going until the scraper no longer picks anything up and your tongue is a fleshy, pink color.”

Best U-shaped tongue scraper

If you want to go the tongue scraper route, you have other options — namely two, which Steven Smith, a dental hygienist at Nassau Street Dental, classifies by shape: U-shape and T-shape. “For patients with no difficulty using their hands, I recommend disposable U-shaped scrapers,” says Dr. Smith. “They are very soft and flexible allowing anyone to contour it to any portion of the tongue, including the very-difficult-to-reach back of the tongue.” He says that their flexibility and simplicity in design makes it easier to avoid having a gag reflex, and since they’re disposable and don’t have bristles (like a toothbrush), they’re more sanitary and collect less bacteria. His pick for a U-shaped scraper is one from the brand

Best T-shaped tongue scraper

“For patients with limited dexterity in their hands as a result of arthritis or carpal tunnel, the T-shaped scrapers are best,” Smith says. He compares the handle design to that of a toothbrush, and says that for those suffering with arthritis, it can make a big difference to have a tool you can hold in your palm, rather than between your finger tips. “For those who still have difficulty holding the handle as they can be fairly slim, they can try slicing a small hole in a tennis ball and placing the handle inside allowing greater surface area to hold on to.” For this shape, Smith recommends the Wondrous Clean Tongue Wand. The angled head is part of this scraper’s draw, too: “I like tongue scrapers that have an angle to get into the posterior of the tongue and scratch off the bacteria,” says Dr. Allison Cuevas.

Best tongue scraper for sensitive mouths

Those with more sensitive mouths might want to consider this DenTek cleaner, which comes recommended by Dr. Lana Rozenberg. “It’s made of plastic, and softer on the tongue than other options,” she says. “This is a great choice for those who want to avoid the harsher scrape you get with metal cleaners.” The handle is similar to that of a toothbrush, making it particularly easy to grip, and the head is comprised of three concentric mint-flavored circle edges, which, Rozenberg notes, means you’re essentially getting three scrapes with every one motion. She suggests rinsing with mouthwash after you’re done scraping to ensure all the bacteria you’ve cleaned off of your tongue has left your mouth.