I am looking for a proper name for one of the stages of preparing to spit.

I mean the action of "sucking" saliva/water/mouthwash from the gaps between my teeth.

I guess I mean it as opposed to simply gathering saliva at the front of my mouth (because I could just wait for it to build up naturally).

If it helps anyone, there are at least two types of situations when I do it: when I have finished using mouthwash and want to get rid of it, to prevent swallowing it; or when I have taken a sip of something unpleasant (perhaps juice that had gone off), and I want to get rid of the foul taste.

Also, it is something I can only do with my mouth shut. I know a similar effect can be achieved with the lips ajar and the teeth clenched. That might be accompanied with hissing - and I specifically do not mean this.

I do also seem to pout when I do it, although that is probably a side effect, or even a means, of generating low pressure in my mouth. A bit like drinking a thick smoothie through a straw.

Finally, I am looking for this term so that I can use it in conversation with a dentist, perhaps over the phone when I can't demonstrate the action. I seem to have an odd issue with my tooth or gum when doing this seems to hurt. I am happy to consider all sorts of answers: from informal and idiomatic to fully scientific.

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    +1 for a very clear and interesting first question! I can't think of any better way to describe it than you have. If you don't get an answer here, consider asking at Medical Sciences. They have a dentistry tag.
    – gotube
    Commented May 13, 2023 at 2:55
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    I can't imagine that there is a single word for this in English. Do you have one in your native language?
    – James K
    Commented May 13, 2023 at 3:26
  • @JamesK Not that I can think of. So I'm prepared to accept that there isn't in English either. But I thought it's worth trying, English is supposed to have one of the richest vocabularies of all languages.
    – pateksan
    Commented May 13, 2023 at 6:12
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    Not always a good idea to do this in public. If it is intentionally done to make a hissing sound, and especially if it is used to express doubt, disbelief, contempt, scorn, etc, it is often called 'sucking the teeth' in the UK. In Jamaican culture, this action is called 'kissing the teeth' and is considered very bad manners. In some African and African-heritage cultures the sound is called a 'steup', 'schtoop', 'schtip', etc. Banned in French schools because it is a sign of disrespect. Commented May 13, 2023 at 7:35

1 Answer 1


I call it swishing - there's a video here, if that's what you are describing:


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