Earlier this year, we looked at some of the research on the potential relationship between COVID and oral health and how certain mouth rinses might help prevent the spread. Now, a new study in BMC Oral Health suggests that another simple oral hygiene practice may also keep the novel coronavirus in check.
The study involved 302 COVID-positive patients in Spain who were living with others. Each completed a survey on things like oral hygiene habits, disinfection control, demographic data, and, of course, cross-transmission of the virus to another person in the household.
One hygiene habit made a significant difference: tongue brushing. Those who regularly cleaned their tongue – roughly 17% of participants – were less likely to pass along the virus to others in the household.
Toothbrushing didn’t make a difference, nor did flossing or using a standard mouthwash. Even when good disinfection practices were followed – sanitizing toothbrushes, storing them separately, not sharing them – some viral transmission occurred.
When studying oral hygiene habits, no significant differences were found between the groups except for tongue cleaning. This result can be interpreted to indicate the tongue as the main oral organ acting as a reservoir of COVID-19 and the importance of brushing to decrease the viral load of the individual carrier. [emphasis added]
Of course, there are other good reasons to make tongue cleaning a regular part of your hygiene routine. All those little bumps on your tongue – the papillae – make this muscular organ an excellent harbor of food debris, dead skin cells, and bacteria. You can imagine what a lot of “yuck” that can quickly become.
The resulting bad breath is the least of it. Harmful bacteria can move easily to your gums and teeth, leading to tartar buildup, decay, gum disease, and other infections.
You don’t need fancy tools to clean your tongue. Your regular toothbrush will do. Just brush gently once you’ve finished brushing your teeth, while there’s still a bit of toothpaste in your mouth. It’s a good idea to gently brush the insides of your cheeks and the roof of your mouth, as well. Rinse with water afterward.
Another option is to use a tongue scraper, which you drag gently across your tongue to remove bacteria and debris. Some toothbrushes have a scraper attached, which you can use instead of a dedicated scraper. While there is a bit of evidence that scraping may be more effective than tongue brushing, the quality of that evidence was found to be “weak” and “unreliable.”
If you do oil pulling, as well, some recommend that you scrape your tongue before you being swishing the oil. And be sure to rinse the scraper after each pass.