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.
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.
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^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 Periodontology75 (7): 1009–12. doi:10.1902/jop.2004.75.7.1009. PMID15341360.
^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 Tropicale28 (109): 5–10. PMID16032940.