A tongue cleaner (also called a tongue scraper or tongue brush) is an oral hygiene device designed to clean the bacterial build-up, food debris, fungi, and dead cells from the surface of the tongue. The bacteria and fungi that grow on the tongue are related to many common oral care and general health problems. In addition, decaying bacteria produce volatile sulphur compounds on the rear of the tongue; these molecules account for 80 to 95 percent of all cases of halitosis (bad breath).
The top surface of the tongue can be cleaned using a tongue cleaner, a tongue brush/scraper or a toothbrush. However, toothbrushes are not considered as effective for this purpose because they are designed for brushing the teeth, which have a solid structure unlike the spongy tissue of the tongue.
Ergonomic tongue cleaners are shaped in accordance with the anatomy of the tongue, and are optimized to lift and trap the plaque coating and effectively clean the surface of the tongue. There are many different types of tongue cleaners; they are made from plastic, metal or other materials. Their effectiveness varies widely depending on the shape, dimensions, configuration, quality of the contact surfaces and materials used. In addition, tongue cleaning gels used in association with the tongue cleaners as antibacterial agents may enhance cleaning effects.
Tongue cleaning was performed by the Romans, and was recorded in Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Ayurveda, the practice of traditional Indian medicine, recommends tongue cleaning as part of one's daily hygiene regimen, to remove the toxic debris, known as Ama. Tongue scrapers are common drugstore items in Pakistan.
In the 19th century, specially designed, handcrafted tongue cleaners made of sterling silver, ivory, and tortoise shell were available.
Tongue cleaning may remove some of the millions of bacteria (up to 500 different types), decaying food debris, fungi (such as Candida), and dead cells, from the rear surface of the tongue. Tongue cleaning is generally viewed as an effective solution for many cases of halitosis, or bad breath.
Some limited studies have shown tongue bacteria produce malodorous compounds and fatty acids, that may account for 80 to 95 percent of all cases of bad breath. The remaining 5–20% of cases originate in the stomach, from the tonsils, from decaying food stuck between the teeth, gum disease, tooth decay, or plaque accumulated on the teeth.
Clinical studies have shown that using tongue cleaners on a daily basis has a significant effect on eliminating anaerobic bacteria and decreasing oral malodor. Dental specialists generally assume that a majority of cases of halitosis originate on the back of the tongue, an area that can be cleaned efficiently by using an ergonomically designed tongue cleaner.
The surface of the tongue may be viewed as an excellent breeding ground for different bacteria. These microorganisms colonize and multiply on the protein-rich areas of the tongue, and eventually, through the saliva, reach all areas of the mouth including the teeth and gums. These bacteria are considered as major contributors to periodontal problems, plaque on the teeth, tooth decay, gum infections, gum recession and even tooth loss.
In addition, physicians have reevaluated the link between oral health and pathologies of the rest of the body. Many clinical studies concluded that oral bacteria are associated with a number of serious systemic diseases:
- Cardiovascular problems (heart attack, cerebral stroke)
- Pneumonia due to inhaling bacteria present in the mouth
- Premature birth, and low fetus weight at birth time
- Increased risk of diabetes
- Osteoporosis of the jaw
- Infertility problems for men
Improving taste perception
A dirty tongue cannot taste the subtle flavours in food. By removing food debris from the tongue's surface, taste buds are able to function more effectively. This benefit is more pronounced as one ages - since the quantity of taste buds on the tongue diminishes.
There are reports of cases where cleaning the tongue may generate vomiting or the so-called gag reflex if touching certain sensitive areas; this can easily be avoided by relaxing the tongue and the muscles of the throat and/or exhaling during use.
Using an inappropriately designed tongue cleaner too much or in an aggressive way may cause damage to the taste buds present on the surface of the tongue. There are opinions[according to whom?] claiming that, even in such cases, the taste buds actually regenerate soon after being damaged. Using a safe ergonomic tongue cleaner carefully may avoid such circumstances.
- Harold C. Slavkin, DDS; Bruce J. Baum, DMD, PhD I (2000). "Relationship of Dental and Oral Pathology to Systemic Illness". JAMA -The Journal of the American Medical Association (284(10):1215-1217).
- Raul I. Garcia, Michelle M. Henshaw, Elizabeth A. KrallI (February 2001). "Relationship between periodontal disease and systemic health". Periodontology 2000 25 (1): 21–36. doi:10.1034/j.1600-0757.2001.22250103.x.
- "Scientists find bug responsible for bad breath". Reuters. 2008-04-07.
- Pedrazzi V, Sato S, de Mattos Mda G, Lara EH, Panzeri H. (July 2004). "Tongue-cleaning methods: a comparative clinical trial employing a toothbrush and a tongue scraper.". Jurnal of Periodontology 75 (7): 1009–12. doi:10.1902/jop.2004.75.7.1009. PMID 15341360.
- Handcrafted tongue cleaners Antique Dental Instruments
- Kazor CE, Mitchell PM, Lee AM et al. (February 2003). "Diversity of bacterial populations on the tongue dorsa of patients with halitosis and healthy patients". Journal of Clinical Microbiology 41 (2): 558–63. doi:10.1128/jcm.41.2.558-563.2003. PMC 149706. PMID 12574246.
- "Scientists find bug responsible for bad breath". Reuters. 2008-04-07.
- Bad Breath By the Editorial Board of The University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine
- Bad Breath Research The British Dental Association
- Almas K, Al-Sanawi E, Al-Shahrani B (March 2005). "The effect of tongue scraper on mutans streptococci and lactobacilli in patients with caries and periodontal disease". Odonto-stomatologie Tropicale 28 (109): 5–10. PMID 16032940.
- "For the dental patient. What you should know about bad breath". Journal of the American Dental Association (1939) 134 (1): 135. January 2003. doi:10.14219/jada.archive.2003.0027. PMID 12555968.
- Bad breath (Halitosis) - FAQ ADA, Oral Health Topicz A-Z
- Bad Breath May Indicate More Than What You Had for Lunch Dental Health Directory -Bad Breath: An Anatomy
- Bad Breath - Fact File British Dental Association - April 2008
- White GE, Armaleh MT (2004). "Tongue scraping as a means of reducing oral mutans streptococci". The Journal of Clinical Pediatric Dentistry 28 (2): 163–6. PMID 14969377.
- New Directions in Dentistry by Gordon Christensen, DDS, MSD, PhD, ScD Dentistrytoday.com Issue Date: February 2002, Posted On: 8/26/2005
- Christensen GJ (August 2005). "Special oral hygiene and preventive care for special needs". Journal of the American Dental Association 136 (8): 1141–3. doi:10.14219/jada.archive.2005.0319. PMID 16161370.
- Li X, Kolltveit KM, Tronstad L, Olsen I (October 2000). "Systemic diseases caused by oral infection". Clinical Microbiology Reviews 13 (4): 547–58. doi:10.1128/CMR.13.4.547-558.2000. PMC 88948. PMID 11023956.
- Review of the Oral Disease-Systemic Disease Link. Part I: Heart Disease, Diabetes Canadian Journal of Dental Hygiene, November–December 2006, 40(6):288-342
- ORAL-SYSTEMIC HEALTH (YOUR ORAL HEALTH AND OVERALL HEALTH) American Dental Association - Oral Health Topics
- PERIODONTITIS AND OSTEOPOROSIS FACTA UNIVERSITATIS Series: Medicine and Biology Vol.12, No 2, 2005, pp. 100 - 103
- Osteoporosis and Periodontal Disease Division of Periodontology, Department of Dentistry, Taipei Veterans General Hospital, School of Dentistry, National Yang-Ming University, Taipei, Taiwan, R.O.C.
- Ensslen SC, Riedel HH, Bieniek KW, Hafner R (1990). "[Male subfertility and oral bacterial diseases]". Zentralblatt Für Gynäkologie (in German) 112 (13): 823–5. PMID 2238984.
- K.J. Joshipura, E.B. Rimm, C.W. Douglass, D. Trichopoulos, A. Ascherio, W.C. Willett (September 1996). "Poor Oral Health and Coronary Heart Disease". Journal of Dental Research 75 (9): 1631–1636. doi:10.1177/00220345960750090301.
- V. Karhunen, H. Forss, S. Goebeler, H. Huhtala, E. Ilveskoski, O. Kajander, J. Mikkelsson, A. Penttilä, M. Perola, H. Ranta, J.H. Meurman, P.J. Karhunen (January 2006). "Radiographic Assessment of Dental Health in Middle-aged Men Following Sudden Cardiac Death". Journal of Dental Research 85 (1): 89–93. doi:10.1177/154405910608500116.
-  British Dental Journal, 'How to cleanse your patients deep pile carpets' - volume 216 NO. 11 June 13 2014