Oral health is more than having clean and healthy teeth; it’s about the health of your entire mouth. This means that promoting strong oral health involves not only keeping your teeth clean but also caring for your gums and—what is often left out—your tongue. The tongue is a breeding ground for all sorts of bacteria, and it has a tendency to collect debris over time, contributing to bad breath and overall weak oral health. These factors together make regular cleaning of the tongue a necessity. Not sure how to care for your tongue in your oral hygiene routine? Here are some ways to promote stronger tongue health as you go about your regular teeth cleaning.

Get the right tool.

Many opt to clean the tongue simply by brushing it thoroughly with the bristles of a toothbrush during a regular teeth cleaning routine. While this does does help to combat bacteria and debris levels on the surface of the tongue, a specialized tool for cleaning the tongue will be much more effective. Talk with your dentist about a tongue cleaner that he or she recommends. A good tongue cleaner will scrape the tongue of bacteria and debris with a raking effect, preparing it for thorough cleaning with mouthwash. Some tongue scrapers are about half the width of the tongue, while others are large enough to cover the entire width. They can be made of either metal or plastic, and you’ll often find them in both children and adult sizes.

Use the right technique.

Whether you’re using a specialized tongue scraper or simply the small tongue scraping feature on the back of your toothbrush, it’s important to use the right technique for optimum results. Be sure not to apply too much pressure and to start with the scraper as far back in the throat as is comfortable without eliciting the gag reflex. Then, move the scraper forward gently, scraping in 3–5 motions until you reach the tip of the tongue. If the bacteria seems difficult to remove, try coating it with toothpaste first and then scraping. Be sure to clean your tongue scraper thoroughly after each use.

Clean the tongue.

Once you have successfully scraped your tongue of bacteria and debris, you should clean it thoroughly with toothpaste or mouthwash. If you have a tongue scraper on the back of your toothbrush, then you can apply toothpaste and repeat the scraping motion to coat your tongue thoroughly with toothpaste. Alternatively, you can rinse your mouth with mouthwash to remove any loose residue.