Between the food you eat and the beverages you drink, your tongue attracts more than its fair share of bacteria. In fact, some estimate that more than 40,000 types of bacteria live on your tongue. If left unchecked, the bacteria on your tongue could contribute to bad breath and tooth decay.

Unfortunately, many people struggle to brush their tongue on a regular basis. Some individuals have a hypersensitive gag reflex, and when they touch the back of their tongue, they gag or vomit. If you find cleaning your tongue a traumatic experience every morning or night, try the following techniques.

1. Try a Tongue Scraper Instead of a Toothbrush

Your toothbrush works well for cleaning the smooth surfaces of your teeth. The bristles slide over your enamel and allow you to quickly remove lingering food particles.

However, your tongue has a rougher surface, and the soft toothbrush bristles will slide over your tongue rather than dig into the crevices. If your toothbrush slides too far back, you'll gag before you can finish your cleaning session.

For a more effective clean, invest in a tongue scraper. Tongue scrapers feature a curved edge that scrapes away germs and bacteria when you drag the device across your tongue. Researchers have found that a tongue scraper can remove as much as 75% of compounds that cause bad breath while a toothbrush can only remove 45%.

2. Work With Your Sensitive Points

The tip of your tongue is relatively self-cleaning. Whenever you eat, chew, or speak, your tongue's tip comes in contact with your hard palate, and the friction removes bacteria and debris buildup.

In contrast, the back portion of your tongue only contacts the soft palate, and the movements your tongue makes near the area are fairly gentle. Consequently, you may see a white, gray, or brownish film building up in a triangular section of your tongue. This is the area you'll need to focus on whenever you brush or clean with a tongue scraper.

Unfortunately, the back portion of your tongue can also trigger your pharyngeal reflex or gag reflex. If you accidentally place your scraper or toothbrush too far back while you clean, you may find yourself heaving.

To remove buildup without gagging, find the center groove in your tongue and follow it back to where the line ends. Gently place your scraper at this portion of your tongue and pull the scraper forward toward the less-sensitive tip. Don't clean the bumpy mounds of tonsillar tissue at the furthest reaches of your tongue.

If you find that the end of your groove is still too sensitive to clean effectively, position the scraper a little further forward and scrape from there. With practice, you can suppress your gag reflex and work the scraper further and further back until you can completely scrub away the buildup.

3. Hold Your Toothbrush Perpendicular to Your Tongue

If you don't own a tongue scraper yet, you can still clean your tongue without losing your latest meal. You simply have to alter your brushing technique.

Many people intuitively hold their toothbrushes parallel to their tongue. The up and down motion allows the toothbrush to slide over the tongue easily, often reducing cleaning time. However, this motion also allows the toothbrush to slide back to the tongue and trigger the gag reflex.

To maintain greater control over your brush and your reflex, turn your toothbrush so it rests perpendicular to your tongue. A gentle side-to-side motion may feel unnatural at first, but it will allow you to brush your tongue without worrying about slippage.

As with a tongue scraper, you should only brush as far back as the end of your tongue groove. Do not brush your tonsils on either side of your tongue.

Practice Makes Perfect

While brushing your tongue may feel awkward or unpleasant at first, regular practice will improve your ability to taste, banish bad breath, and reduce your chance of developing cavities.

If you still struggle with brushing your tongue, set up an appointment with your dentist. He or she can recommend ways to improve your technique and ensure optimum oral health.

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