There are several tools someone may use to clean their tongue, such as tongue scrapers, toothbrushes, or mouth rinses. According to research, however, the benefits of tongue cleaning are inconclusive.

Oral hygiene is important in maintaining a healthy mouth. Good practices such as brushing and flossing can help reduce bacteria and other buildup that can cause health conditions.

Some people clean their tongues to try to reduce bad breath, bacteria, and tongue coating. The tongue coating is a white-colored coating made of residues, bacteria, and dead cells.

Tongue scrapers and toothbrushes aim to reduce the tongue coating, and oral rinses can mask the odor or target bacteria or certain compounds. While a small 2021 study supports the effectiveness of tongue cleaning in reducing tongue coating, bad breath, or bacteria, some research suggests tongue cleaning has no impact.

This article discusses different methods of cleaning the tongue, the potential benefits of tongue cleaning, and the symptoms of tongue issues.

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Tongue scrapers are tools that can help clean the tongue. They come in many shapes, sizes, and materials. Scrapers aim to remove food residues, microorganisms, and dead cells that can coat the tongue with a white substance called tongue coating.


To clean a tongue with a tongue scraper, a person must place the tool at the back of the tongue and pull it forward. Some people prefer to use the tool in their daily routines.

Research suggests that proper technique has an impact. The small study above from 2021 examined tongue cleaning methods and how effective they were at reducing tongue coating and bad breath. The study showed that wiping from the back to the front of the tongue accurately was more effective than the particular tool.

Learn more about tongue scraping.

Toothbrushes are other tools that can help clean the tongue and target tongue coating. They also keep the rest of the mouth healthy with a regular toothbrushing routine.


Cleaning the tongue with a toothbrush is an important part of a regular toothbrushing routine. The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research suggests brushing the teeth twice a day with gentle circular motions and fluoride toothpaste.

As discussed with tongue scraper use, wiping from the back to the front of the tongue is important in reducing tongue coating and bad breath.

While mouthwash cannot wipe the tongue the way a scraper or brush can, it aims to mask the odor or target certain conditions.

According to the American Dental Association (ADA), some rinses simply mask odor and do not affect the bacteria or compounds that lead to bad breath. However, therapeutic rinses with antimicrobials might inhibit compounds that cause odors. Certain ingredients also aim to help conditions such as gingivitis and plaque.

People need to keep in mind that some rinses can cause side effects such as tongue and teeth staining. The ADA cautions against mouth rinses for children under 6 years old unless a doctor prescribes them.


Mouthwashes involve rinsing the mouth with a solution. It is advisable for people to follow the instructions that come with mouthwash or an oral rinse. Some rinses list steps in a specific order.

Proper oral hygiene helps keep the mouth healthy by removing bacteria and other buildup that can cause health conditions.

The benefits of tongue cleaning, specifically, are inconclusive.

Reducing bad breath

Mechanical tongue cleaning using a tongue scraper, toothbrush, or both tools may effectively reduce bad breath and tongue coating.

However, a research review from 2019 found uncertain evidence of how well mechanical tongue cleaning and certain mouthwashes manage bad breath.

Reducing bacteria

Tongue cleaning may also reduce bacteria, but researchers are unsure. A study from 2019 examined the connection between tongue cleaning behavior and tongue coating, gingivitis, plaque, and gender.

The study found that although tongue cleaning behavior had no impact on tongue coating discoloration and thickness, slightly lower gingivitis scores linked to self-reported daily cleaning.

Meanwhile, a small study from 2017 examined the impact of tongue cleaning on people with advanced gum disease, or periodontitis. Two weeks of cleaning with a scraper or toothbrush did not affect the amount of bacteria in the saliva or tongue coating.

Changes or abnormalities on the tongue can indicate a tongue issue or oral condition. Some conditions and possible symptoms include:

  • Canker sores: Symptoms include small gray or white sores with red borders.
  • Hairy or furred tongue: This covering is colored anywhere from black-brown to green-yellow with a hairy appearance.
  • Geographic tongue or benign migratory glossitis: Symptoms include multiple red patches with white, raised borders.
  • Glossitis: This is inflammation that can present as pain or a change in surface appearance.
  • Fissured tongue: This involves increased fissures and grooves on the tongue.
  • Oral or tongue cancer: Oral or tongue cancer can present as red or white patches, sores, rough spots, and other symptoms.

Additional symptoms of tongue or oral conditions may include lesions, bad breath, changes in sensation, and other changes in appearance or texture.

Contacting a dentist for regular cleanings and about changes or abnormalities on the tongue is important. A healthcare professional can diagnose any tongue issues.

Some tongue issues may go away on their own, but others require testing and medical attention and may indicate other health conditions.

Some people use manual tongue cleaners to try to reduce bad breath, tongue coating, and bacteria.

Tongue scrapers come in many varieties. A person can use one by placing it at the back of the tongue and pulling the tool forward. Toothbrushes can help wipe the tongue similarly, and experts recommend brushing the tongue as part of a regular toothbrushing routine.

Oral hygiene, including regular brushing and flossing, is important for oral health. However, it is inconclusive how well tongue cleaning works.

Various tongue and oral issues involve changes or abnormalities in tongue appearance, texture, and sensation. Contacting a dentist for regular dental exams, cleanings, and about concerning oral changes is a good idea. A dentist can diagnose any issues.