Clean Tongue Is Essential to Fresh Breath

Want to control bad breath? Don't ignore the tongue.

All those bumps and grooves on your tongue are a haven for bacteria and could be contributing to your bad breath because of the gases they give off, says Dr. Matthew Messina, a consumer advisor for the American Dental Association. It's important to take care of the tongue in addition to regular brushing and flossing.

According to Dr. Messina, "Scraping the tongue can really reduce the number of those bacteria and can help a number of people with bad breath."

But what's the best way to tackle the tongue?

An article in a recent issue of General Dentistry found that tongue scrapers are effective at reducing halitosis, at least short-term.

But Dr. Messina said a toothbrush can work just as well as long as you remember to brush the tongue's middle and back, where microbe populations can be especially high.

If you find that brushing or scraping your tongue makes you gag, he recommends holding your tongue with your free hand. "Stabilizing the tongue a bit makes it easier to scrape or brush the surface," Dr. Messina said.

While brushing the tongue doesn't have a long-lasting effect on bad breath, it is an important step in keeping your entire mouth healthy. The ADA notes that bad breath may be the sign of a medical disorder, such as a respiratory tract infection, chronic sinusitis, diabetes, gastrointestinal disturbance, liver or kidney ailment.

If your dentist determines that your mouth is healthy, you may be referred to your family doctor or a specialist to determine the cause of bad breath.

© 2017 American Dental Association. All rights reserved. Reproduction or republication is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission from the American Dental Association.

This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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Foul-smelling breath, usually caused by the breakdown of food. Other culprits include poor dental hygiene, dry mouth, disease, infection, tobacco use and severe dieting.


Most bad breath starts in your mouth, and there are many possible causes that include:

  • Food particles from stinky foods like garlic and onions
  • Smoking
  • Respiratory Infections
  • Acid Reflux
  • Poor Oral Hygiene

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