Dr Fleur Creeper
Written by Dr Fleur Creeper, Jun 16, 2022
Fact Checked
Key Takeaways
  • The tongue is an important part of maintaining a healthy mouth.
  • Cleaning your tongue can help to reduce bad breath.
  • The keys to keeping your tongue and whole mouth clean include brushing twice daily, drinking plenty of water and having a healthy diet.

Did you know your tongue helps you speak, eat, swallow and taste your food? You probably do not think about your tongue much, but it is really important.

The tongue is a muscle. It is covered with a moist coating known as mucosa, and has millions of tiny bumps called papillae. These papillae give the tongue its rough texture and some of these papillae contain taste buds which allow us to taste our food and drink. This bumpy surface can collect bits of food and of course millions of bacteria or microorganisms, called flora.
Just like your thumb print, the tongue flora is different for every single person.

Cleaning your tongue can reduce the amount of bacteria on the tongue. While the impact of reducing the amount of bacteria on the tongue has not been proven yet, some studies suggest it may improve gum and tooth health as well as mouth freshness.

Bad breath, known as halitosis, is sometimes given as the main reason to clean your tongue.  However a review of the scientific evidence in 2019 found no evidence that cleaning your tongue, using several different methods including mouthwash or chewing gum, were effective for managing the cause of halitosis. Bad breath can actually originate from other areas of the body including the lungs and the nose!

If you like the feeling of cleaning your tongue or if you do decide to clean your tongue, you need to be very gentle because the tongue surface is delicate and sensitive! Provided it has a soft bristle, our toothbrush can be used for this task, though other tools such as tongue scrapers can also be used. 
Start gently at the back of the tongue, pulling or brushing forward and use water to lubricate the process so the brush doesn’t drag along the tongue surface.

The key tips to keeping your whole mouth healthy are:

  • brush your teeth twice daily with a fluoride containing toothpaste,
  • clean between your teeth daily with floss or interdental brushes,
  • drink plenty of water,
  • stop smoking,
  • limit sugary foods and drinks, and
  • see your dentist regularly for a general dental check-up and personalised oral health advice.


These tips are all evidence based and are proven to be effective in maintaining optimal oral health!

Interesting tongue facts
  • Of all the muscles in the human body, the tongue is the strongest relative to its size and the only muscle that’s attached at one end. 
  • It’s also the only muscle in the body that works without any support from the skeleton. 
  • The mouth typically has around 700 forms of bacteria, many collecting on your tongue.
  • Put it to work by using the tongue to ‘scavenge’ after eating to try and remove food that may be stuck around the teeth.
essica Simpson
About the Author
Dr Fleur Creeper

Dr Creeper is a specialist Periodontist. She is a member of ADA Oral Health Committee and is passionate about encouraging all Australians to practice simple and effective oral hygiene measures to achieve optimal oral health.

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