Did you know that your tongue can build up just as much bacteria as your teeth? Although the bacteria on your tongue won’t cause cavities, keeping your tongue clean is still a major component of oral health that should not be overlooked.
But is the ancient Ayurvedic technique known as tongue scraping really worth your time and effort?
We’ve done the research so that you don’t have to. And spoiler alert – yes, it is, and no, a quick scrub with your toothbrush every now and again isn’t going to cut it!
In this article, we’ll explore the following:
- What is tongue scraping?
- Tongue scraping & Ayurveda
- 4 benefits of tongue scraping
- How to tongue scrape
- Side effects of tongue scraping
- How often should you tongue scrape?
Ready to banish bad breath once and for all?
What is tongue scraping?
Your teeth are not the only thing you need to consider as part of your daily dental routine. Over time, food debris, bacteria, and dead cells can also build up on your tongue.
As dentist John Kling explains, “Bacteria will accumulate greatly in the areas of the tongue between the taste buds and other tongue structures. It’s not smooth. There are crevices and elevations all over the tongue, and the bacteria will hide in these areas unless it is removed.”
This can lead to a number of undesirable and potentially harmful side effects such as bad breath, discolouration (typically a white coating of the tongue), and a greater likelihood of contracting oral diseases.
Tongue scraping is an ancient ayurvedic technique that refers to the action of removing unwanted particles from your tongue using a small instrument specifically designed for this purpose. When used correctly and consistently, tongue scrapers can remove build-up and significantly reduce the bacterial load in the oral cavity.
The devices can come in many shapes and sizes, but the most common types feature a curved U-shape design or a simple toothbrush-like design.
When it comes to choosing the right tongue scraper for you, we recommend picking a plastic or metal device with a wide scraper head. In the spirit of sustainability, try to buy a reusable scraper made from sustainable steel over a disposable plastic one if you can. Stainless steel is also far easier to clean and disinfect than plastic.
Although many tongue scrapers now come with added features, there’s no need to go for anything particularly cutting-edge. As long as your scraper has no sharp edges or ridges and is easy to use and clean, you’re good to go.
If you’re interested, however, check out Verywell Health’s list of 8 Best Tongue Scrapers of 2022 for an in-depth comparison of the latest top models.
Whilst it is possible to tongue scrape with a metal spoon or even your toothbrush, tongue scrapers are proven to be far more effective. Given their affordability and availability at any local pharmacy, it’s a no-brainer!
For best practice, replace your tongue scraper as regularly as you would your toothbrush. And FYI, that should be every 4 months!
Tongue Scraping & Ayurveda
India’s ancient medical system, Ayurveda, holds that the tongue in a window to what’s going on inside the body.
According to Ayurveda, the different sections of the tongue correspond to different parts of the body including the lungs, heart, liver, stomach, kidneys, and intestines. Therefore, when you use a tongue scraper, you are stimulating, massaging, and detoxifying the associated body part too!
4 benefits of tongue scraping
Although you may think you have your dental routine down, you’re doing yourself a serious disservice if you’re forgetting to tongue scrape.
#1 Improves appearance of the tongue
Over time, build-up of excess debris from food and more can cause your tongue to lose its natural colour and take on a white coated appearance.
Thankfully, tongue scraping is a highly effective way to combat this, as demonstrated by a 2004 study testing the effects of tongue scraping on ‘microbial load and taste’. After tongue scraping twice a day for 2 weeks, all participants experienced significant decreases in tongue coating.
#2 Improves your sense of taste
Impressively, tongue scraping can also improve your sense of taste and make eating an altogether more flavorful experience.
This is evidenced by research conducted in 2004 that concluded that tongue scraping for a period of 2 weeks significantly improved ‘taste sensation for bitter, sweet, salt, and sour.’
This being said, it is important to use minimal pressure when tongue scraping as overuse or too much force can result in a reduced taste sensation along with balding of the tongue papillae.
#3 Removes harmful bacteria
Several studies have reported that using a tongue scraper twice a day for a prolonged period effectively reduces the growth of bacteria.
One study in 2005 found that using a tongue scraper twice a day for 1 week reduced the number of harmful bacteria found in the mouth, specifically Mutans streptococci and Lactobacilli; two types known to cause bad breath and decay.
Bacteria in the mouth can lead to the build-up of plaque, which in turn can lead to a number of unpleasant oral conditions such as gum disease, tooth decay, cavities, halitosis, and more.
#4 Improves bad breath
Regular tongue scraping is a highly effective way to reduce bad breath. Afterall, 85% of all halitosis (bad breath) cases originate from the mouth and of this, 50% are caused by bacteria on the tongue.
A study conducted in 2004 found that participants who used a tongue scraper for a week showed a 75% reduction in halitosis-causing bacteria on their tongue. They also found that a tongue scraper was 30% more effective than using a toothbrush.
However, it’s important to note that for real, long-lasting improvements, you need to tongue scrape consistently on a daily basis alongside brushing your teeth. To keep bad breath at bay, experts also recommend using a chlorhexidine mouthwash or practicing coconut oil pulling for at least 15 minutes each day.
How to tongue scrape
Not only is tongue scraping extremely effective, but it’s also a fast and easy practice to incorporate into your daily routine. In fact, the entire process should take you less than two minutes.
If you don’t have a tongue scraper, you can use your toothbrush or even the rounded edge of a small spoon. However, bear in mind that your scraping will be significantly less effective!
To perform tongue scraping, follow these 6 easy steps:
Grab your stainless steel, copper or plastic tongue scraper and stand in front of a mirror. Open wide and stick out your tongue.
Gently place the rounded end of the tongue scraper at the back of your tongue.
If this triggers your gag reflex, you can start at the middle of your tongue and gradually move further back as you get used to the sensation.
Slowly pull the scraper along your tongue toward the tip. You should never push the scraper in the other direction (from the tip of your tongue to the back).
Be mindful of how much pressure you apply here. Press too hard and you risk breaking the skin and damaging your tastebuds. If you experience any discomfort at all, you’re probably being too rough!
Remove the debris from your device after each scrape with a tissue. After all, you want to remove the bacteria from your mouth, not just move it around!
Repeat this process until you’ve scraped the entire surface of your tongue. You don’t need to go ham here – one or two scrapes per area should be sufficient.
Last but certainly not least, wash your tongue scraper with hot water and antibacterial soap and let it dry properly.
NB: Don’t share your tongue scraper with other people, even if you clean it first, as you risk transferring unknown bacteria that could be harmful.
Side effects of tongue scraping
Although the benefits of tongue scraping far outweigh the possible side effects, it’s important to acknowledge the risks and take preventative measures if necessary.
The side effects include:
- Triggering your gag reflex, which in some cases can lead to vomiting. If this becomes a regular occurrence, the acid in your vomit can weaken the enamel protecting your teeth and increasing your likelihood of getting cavities.
- Damaging your taste buds. Although tongue scraping can heighten your sense of taste when done carefully and correctly, there’s a fine line; scrape too rough and you risk harming the tiny bumps on your tongue called papillae which help you experience textures and tastes.
- Damaging the surface of your tongue. Although you need to be firm enough to remove the top layer of debris, press too hard and you risk breaking the skin and causing bleeding. Always check that your tongue scraper has no sharp edges or ridges that could cut you before use.
How often should you tongue scrape?
Experts recommend that you scrape your tongue every time you brush your teeth – at least twice a day. However, some dentists recommend tongue scraping after every meal in order to instantly remove debris and prevent the chance of build-up later down the line.
Tongue scraping is a key to maintaining good oral health and easy to make part of your daily routine.
For more oral health tips and tricks, check out our article the ancient Ayurvedic technique of coconut oil pulling and how it can transform your dental health.