The How's and Why's of Cleaning Your Baby's Tongue

Even though babies do not have teeth until their first 3-9 months, it doesn't mean their mouth should not be kept clean. Alongside early visits to your child's dentist once their first tooth erupts, parents must play a key role in maintaining the oral health of babies and young children, particularly where the tongue is concerned. 

Like adult tongues, the surface of your baby's tongue is covered in bacteria known as oral microorganisms. By cleansing their tongue regularly of these microorganisms, you can keep oral infections at bay as well as improve their taste perception. Cleaning your child's tongue in their infancy can help stave off potential dental issues and diseases and will ensure your child develops good oral hygiene in later life. 

The following steps explain how to clean your baby's tongue now and throughout their early years.

For babies up to 12 months

  • Ensuring your hands are clean, prepare a small bowl of lukewarm water and wet the tip of a soft clean cloth or towel. (Many drugstores sell a special 'finger cloth' for wiping children's mouths and tongues).
  • Next, hold your baby in a cradling position so that they feel secure. Then, wrapping the cloth around your index finger, gently place your finger on your baby's lower lip to open their mouth. (If your child fusses, try engaging them in socially interactive games and activities that cause them to laugh or open their mouth before you attempt to clean the tongue. In time, your baby will become used to a routine and may even grow to enjoy it!).
  • Once your baby's mouth is open, gently brush their tongue's surface in small circular motions. Whilst you have access to their mouth, you can also use the cloth to clean the inside of their cheeks and massage their gums. This helps with the teething process and promotes a healthy oral flora.
  • If their tongue residue can't be removed with the cloth, you could use a non-fluoridated mouth cleanser on the tip of the cloth and repeat the same action. Be sure to avoid fluoridated products as ingesting fluoride can be harmful to infants.
  • Repeat this tongue cleaning procedure at least once a day after feeding. If any visible residue remains on your baby's tongue after the above steps, refer your child to a doctor for further advice. A stubborn build up on the tongue could signify 'baby thrush' or some other oral issue.

For toddlers and kids up to 5 years old

Your child will be too young for an actual tongue scraper in this age group, but they can still maintain good oral hygiene in the following ways:

  • For children one year and above, you can move on from using a finger cloth to a finger toothbrush - this is essentially a small, soft-bristled brush that slides over the end of your finger. These can be found in most drugstores and are specially designed for the appropriate cleaning of tongues and oral cavities in infants and young children.
  • Once your child reaches 2 years of age, you can place a small dollop of toothpaste on their tongue (preferably a flavoured, child-friendly variety) and cleanse the tongue with a wet cloth similar to the above steps. Wet the cloth again to remove any residue and let your child rinse their mouth out with warm water. Ensure they don't swallow the toothpaste in large quantities.
  • To encourage your child to continue brushing their tongue from an early age, try getting them to use a small plastic spoon to gently scrape away at bacteria. Toothbrush bristles can feel quite abrasive to young tongues and may risk damaging taste buds, whereas, a smooth spoon provides a more gentle sensation and may help your child work on their gag reflex as they move up to a regular toothbrush.