How To Clean Your Baby's Tongue

by Team Scary Mommy
Originally Published: 
how to clean baby tongue
Juan Encalada/Unsplash

When it comes to caring for a new baby, there’s a lot to learn. Sure, you know that you’re supposed to feed them regularly and change their diaper as needed — but what about the less-obvious stuff? Like is giving them a bath every day a good idea, or is keeping them squeaky-clean bad for their sensitive baby skin? Or, at what point you can take your baby’s smiles as a signal that they’re content instead of just gassy? These questions can also include oral hygiene. Babies don’t have teeth to brush, but you still probably need to clean their mouth somehow, right? What about their tiny baby tongue? Well, wonder no more, because we’ve got you covered. Here’s what you need to know about how to clean a baby’s tongue, including tips and precautions for getting the job done.

Looking for more baby content? We have pages on baby bonding, bow-legged babies, baby bouncers, and more.

Why You Need to Clean a Baby’s Tongue

Even though newborns don’t have teeth, it’s still important to clean their little mouths starting at the very beginning. Just like adults, babies’ mouths are full of bacteria: some good, some unwanted. But while we have plenty of saliva to help keep the less-desirable bacteria at bay (plus other oral hygiene tools), babies don’t. This makes it difficult for them to wash away the milky residue that builds up in their mouths and on their tongues (that’s that weird white coating) after they’ve enjoyed a meal. And that’s where we, as parents or other caregivers, come in.

When we clean a baby’s tongue, it loosens up and then removes the milk residue. Plus, the whole process gets a baby used to the idea that you reaching into their mouth to clean it will be a regular occurrence. This, in turn, is supposed to make it a little easier to introduce a toothbrush to their oral hygiene routine later on. And, while you’re in there, you may want to consider cleaning and massaging their gums, which may make teething a little less horrible when that time comes.

How to Clean a Baby’s Tongue

First things first: Wash your hands before sticking them into your baby’s mouth. Then wrap gauze or a clean washcloth around your finger and moisten it with warm water. Technically, you can buy baby tongue cleaners at a medical supply store if you really want to, but the stuff you already have at home works just as well. And also, there’s no need to use toothpaste or glycerin when you clean a baby’s mouth during their first six months. (After that, consult with your dentist or pediatrician.)

Before going in, make sure that your baby is resting in a comfortable position, cradled in one of your arms. (Your other arm/hand will do the tongue cleaning.) From here, carefully open the baby’s mouth, put your wet-gauzed finger in, and gently scrape their tongue in a circular motion. And, as long as you’re in there, softly rub their gums and the inside of their cheeks. You’re going to need to do this at least once a day, preferably after they’ve eaten.

Why does my baby keep sticking their tongue out?

It’s important to know what the inside of your baby’s mouth looks like, so if they have a habit of sticking their tongues out, it won’t be hard. Sadly, this isn’t a sign your baby’s a jokester, but a common baby reflex called the tongue thrust reflex. This quirky habit not only helps them breast/bottle feed, but for some, just feels good. Tiny humans are odd and may also do this because they’re hungry, full, have gas, poor muscle control, or breathe through their mouths.

What is Baby Tongue-tie?

While we’re on the subject of your baby’s tongue, have you ever heard of tongue-tie? This is not to be confused with tongue twisters but is actually a medical condition. This is when there’s a short thick band of tissue between the floor of your baby’s mouth and the tip of their tongue, which can interfere with speaking and eating. It’s usually not a big deal and can be mended through minor surgery.

What to Do If Baby Has Thrush

At some point, you may need to know how to clean a baby’s tongue when they have thrush, which is an oral fungal infection. Unlike milk residue, which typically wipes right off a baby’s tongue, the white film caused by thrush stays put. And, ultimately, it requires an anti-fungal treatment prescribed by your pediatrician. So if you ever notice that your baby’s tongue is always white, it’s time to call the doctor. They’ll get you sorted with the medication your little one needs.

Baby Mouth Care Tips

Just because your baby doesn’t have any (or many) teeth doesn’t mean oral care goes out the window. Your baby may have a meal plan you control, but that doesn’t stop them from touching everything and their mouths. So, it’s important to keep that tiny space clean. We’ve gathered several infant oral healthcare tips to keep your baby’s gummy gums and/or teeth nice and clean.

  • After each meal, clean your baby’s gums with a soft wet washcloth. Gently massage their gums until you feel like most of the baby food or milk residue is gone.
  • Avoid leaving a bottle or pacifier in your baby’s mouth when they go to bed. If they’re not actively drinking or sucking, you should remove it.
  • A big part of dental health is choosing the right foods. Sticky and sugary foods can lead to plaque buildup, and starchy foods like potato chips are bad for your teeth. Having a balanced diet is a great way to improve your baby’s teeth and gum health.
  • Water and breast milk are a dynamic duo when it comes to preserving your baby’s dental health. Unlike sugary fruit drinks, these liquids don’t linger on your child’s teeth.
  • If you want to introduce your child to sweets without dealing with the harmful effects of concentrated sugar, give them real fruits that are soft and manageable. Or feel free to make your own natural fruity blends. Your baby will get the vitamins and the oral care they need.

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