August 02, 2012
Blast from the past: BehindTheMedspeak: Bad Breath and Tongue Cleansing
The information contained within was valid in 2006 and it still holds.
Not one word has been omitted.
BehindTheMedspeak: Bad Breath and Tongue Cleansing
There are seemingly infinitely many devices, techniques and substances purported to clean your tongue and eliminate or at least mitigate bad breath.
The fact there are so many means none of them are much good.
Just as good money drives out bad, one good medical solution eliminates all the other pretenders and wanna-be's.
Consider for a moment the hundreds of remedies for hiccups — none of which work with the same certainty removing an inflamed appendix will cure appendicitis.
But I digress.
The source of bad breath is indeed — in most cases — the tongue.
There's little doubt of that.
The problem is that the area from which the foul smells emanate is at the very base of the tongue, where thick mucus accumulates to harbor odor-causing bacteria.
You can't get at that area because approaching it with a foreign body like a scraper or cleaning tool triggers your gag reflex, if you're healthy.
It's a protective mechanism from deep time to prevent your inhaling or aspirating something potentially dangerous or harmful.
The tongue scrapers sold as panaceas will definitely clean the visible area of your tongue, but that's not where the problem is.
Sure, your tongue will look all nice and pink afterward but it's purely cosmetic.
Not that cosmetic improvement is to be scoffed at.
For the purpose of such superficial tongue lifts I recommend the SuperSmile flexible plastic tongue scraper (above and below).
Each lasts about three months.
You don't want to commit to six?
I understand that: You can get one for $3.25.
Note that you're supposed to employ it prior to brushing your teeth rather than after: I've been using this device for many years but the wrong way — after brushing — until I carefully read the instructions on the package insert last night, to wit: "Use twice daily before brushing teeth."
But that's just the opening act — because you can get at the unreachable area at your tongue's base and clean it up.
And you don't have to spend a zillion dollars to do so.
The active ingredient in every single bad breath treatment program is hydrogen peroxide.
Simple, cheap, 3% hydrogen peroxide, in the brown plastic bottle that's available at grocery stores, drug stores, 7-Eleven, everywhere, for $2 or so for a 16 oz. brown plastic bottle.
Buy some next time you're at the store, then follow these steps:
1) In the morning, before you brush your teeth, take a swig of the hydrogen peroxide — but don't swallow it.*
2) Tip your head back with your mouth open so that the stuff pools at the base of your tongue.
3) Do this in a quiet place — if you listen carefully, you'll hear faint fizzing from inside your mouth that sounds like soda (I pretend those are the cries of dying bacteria).
4) Keep your head back like that for 15 seconds or so, then spit the stuff out.
Within two weeks your breath will be fresher — or I will refund (cheerfully, as always) every penny you paid for your bottle of hydrogen peroxide.
And you can take that to the bank.
*Don't worry if you swallow it — it's not toxic and won't make you sick.
I'm not saying you should drink the whole bottle, mind you.
August 2, 2012 at 04:01 PM | Permalink
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The goop is ON TOP of your tongue, way back at the base — not under it. See graphic below.
Posted by: bookofjoe | Aug 3, 2012 12:39:02 PM
But now I can't stop wiggling my tongue around and imagining the goop under there, when I never paid it the slightest attention before.
Posted by: luke | Aug 3, 2012 12:01:41 PM
A few remarks to elaborate on the post and respond to the two previous comments.
1. The reason I advised you not swallow the hydrogen peroxide mixed with the carcasses of the now-defunct halitosis-inducing bacteria is that it doesn't taste very good and will leave a funky, unpleasant aftertaste in your mouth — even after subsequent flossing and brushing.
2. "Why before? Why not after? Why not in the middle? Why does it make a difference?" The reason is that the benefit to be derived is greatest when the hydrogen peroxide meets the tongue base gunk when it is as funky as it can get; that means first thing in the morning, after a long night of incubation, undiluted by the morning's brushing and rinsing.
3. "What does the H2O2 do to the balance of 'good' bacteria that permanently inhabits our mouth? Isn't it just as likely to cause problems?" No. The 15-30 seconds of exposure of the base of the tongue to a concentrated blast of H2O2 will be no more likely to change the mouth's overall bacterial flora than brushing your teeth. It's a focused treatment without knock-on effects that I can see.
Posted by: bookofjoe | Aug 3, 2012 10:49:56 AM
OK, Doc: What does the H2O2 do to the balance of "good" bacteria that permanently inhabits our mouth? Isn't it just as likely to cause problems??
Posted by: luke | Aug 3, 2012 6:53:42 AM
"1) In the morning, *before* you brush your teeth, take a swig of the hydrogen peroxide . . . ."
Why before? Why not after? Why not in the middle? Why does it make a difference?
Posted by: anatares | Aug 3, 2012 1:07:52 AM
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