Healthy Tongue. Fewer infections?

The tongue is one of the most unusual organs in the body.

Although actually a muscle, it’s the organ of taste, is very sensitive to touch and promotes speech and communication.

“In the beginning was the word.”

Most spoken sounds are directly related to the position and movement of the tongue in the mouth. The tongue’s taste buds are sensitive to “good” and “bad” tastes and can screen out many foods that shouldn’t go into the body. So the tongue, by governing what comes out of the mouth (speech) and what goes in (food) can be considered a gatekeeper of utmost importance.

With all its remarkable qualities, one would expect us to respect the tongue a little more. Most of us exercise the tongue daily (by talking!) but still only a very small percentage of Americans pay any attention to its hygiene. We floss the teeth, clean the ears and wash the body. But what do we do to keep the tongue clean?

A look at history and science may give us some advice aas to what we should be doing.

Records show that some older cultures have given attention to tongue hygiene for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. For example, an ancient Ayurvedic text from India says that: “The dirt which is collected at the root of the tongue creates obstruction in respiration and produces a foul smell – hence, one should scrape one’s tongue.”

From artifacts we know that the ancient Romans cleaned their tongues with iron tongue scrapers. The wealthier classes of 18th and 19th century Europe also placed some emphasis on tongue hygiene, as evidenced by the ornate, silver tongue scrapers of the period.


In the search for possible causes of plaque formation, the tongue is considered a major culprit. A study done at the U.S. Army Institute of Dental Research in Washington, D.C., concluded that the tongue was a major source of plaque. Another study by Jacobson, Crawford and McFall, published in the Journal of the American Dental Association, concluded that cleaning the tongue and palate slowed plaque formation on the teeth.


A study by Drs. Walter Loesche and Erika De Boever, published in the Journal of the American Dental Association shows that halitosis-causing bacteria is found almost exclusively on the tongue and not elsewhere in the mouth, nor between the teeth, as was previously thought. Dr. De Boever showed that people who for years had bad breath – despite maintaining good oral hygiene – found that this problem virtually disappeared after they took up the practice of cleaning their tongues daily.

Some people will say that digestion plays an important role in causing bad breath and that one needs to treat the whole body and not just the symptom. However, one researcher Dr. Mel Rosenberg of Tel Aviv University, a leading authority on halitosis, examined over 1,000 patients at his clinic and found that not one person’s bad breath was caused by digestive problems.


Many people have reported that they have reduced incidence of colds and flu once they begin using a tongue cleaner regularly. It seems that when mucous and bacteria take hold on the back of the tongue, colds or throat infections are more likely. Naturopathic physician Dr. Diana Ostroff explains that since the tongue is connected to the alimentary canal, scraping the bacteria off the tongue not only prevents the bacteria from building up on the tongue but also prevents it from entering the lymphatic and digestive systems.

With all of these reasons it is therefore no surprise that, in the opinion of one physician, not cleaning the tongue is akin to not washing the body.