BreathDoc - the science of bad breath


The tongue is a large muscular organ with a thick and sturdy tissue covering the top surface. There are several types of taste papillae and many long smooth projections that give the tongue its velvety appearance. These projections have the function of feel (tactile sensation). A smooth, almost transparent epithelium covers the undersurface of the tongue. At the very back of the tongue (tongue dorsum), just before the tonsils, there is a V-shaped row of red bumps. Called the circumvallate papillae, these important taste buds must not be damaged when cleaning the tongue.

Since the tongue is covered with crypts and papillae it has a very large surface that supports very high numbers of bacteria. Studies have indicated an average concentration of 100 bacteria per tongue epithelial cell. This is a very dense bacteria population.

The top of the tongue continually forms a coating that consists of dead cells, food debris and hundreds of thousands of bacteria, living and dead, along with chemicals such as sulfurs produced by bacteria. When left on the tongue, this coating becomes thick and is one of the primary sources of mouth odour. As a secondary effect, when the taste buds are covered with debris and chemicals the sense of taste is affected as well. We find that this unpleasant taste is increased when certain foods are consumed and small amounts are added to the potpourri already present on the tongue surface.

How to use a tongue cleaner

Daily tongue cleaning is a well-established practice in many cultures but has been slower to catch on in the US and Canada. Brushing the tongue with a toothbrush helps reduce the tongue coating somewhat, but a tongue cleaner is much more effective.

Step 1 Place your scraper or tongue cleaner at the back and middle of your tongue at a point before the V-shaped row of papillae and move the scraper forward gently, removing a layer of debris.

Step 2 Wipe or rinse the debris off the scraper, then gently scrape each side of the tongue.

Step 3 If there is a lot of coating, clean the middle area twice. Do not scrape so hard that it is uncomfortable and do not make your tongue bleed. You should clearly see a thick, dense substance on your tongue cleaner. Sticky saliva is not coating and will return onto the tongue as soon as you scrape it off.

Step 4 When you do not see any more coating, stop scraping and rinse your mouth with water and/or mouthwash.

Your mouth should feel fresh. I recommend that the tongue be cleaned both morning and evening. If you feel some oral discomfort in the form of dryness or bad taste, often an extra tongue cleaning midday will help. This is good practice especially if you have had any significant stress, as tongue coating may tend to increase during stress.

You can also brush a small amount of antibacterial rinse onto the tongue after cleaning for extra freshness. In addition to tongue cleaning, be sure to brush and floss your teeth daily, and your mouth will feel fresher for longer periods of time.


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