When practicing proper oral healthcare, many of us think of the basics: brushing our teeth for a whiter smile, flossing (not to be confused with shoulder flossing) and rinsing with mouthwash. But since almost half of the oral bacteria in our mouth live on the deep crevices of the tongue, it’s important to take the tongue into consideration when thinking about oral hygiene. Enter the tongue scraper.
What is tongue scraping?
Tongue scraping is an Ayurvedic self-care ritual (*jihwa nirlekhana*’ (*jihwa*=tongue, *nirlekhana*=scraping) that is an oral hygiene practice that removes bacteria, dead cells, food debris, fungi and toxins from the surface of the tongue. When we sleep, our digestive system remains awake working to remove toxins from our body by depositing them on the surface of the tongue. If we do not scrape away these toxins, they (unfortunately) get reabsorbed in the body. The scraping action of a tongue scraper actually collects these toxic tongue coatings, which can range in color from clear to white to yellow to green and removes them from the body. (Ummm, yuck!)
As an avid user of a tongue scraper, I can vouch for the effectiveness of its use in my daily life. Not only does my tongue feel and look healthier, but my oral healthcare routine doesn’t feel complete without it and for good reason.
Tongue scraping benefits
1. Tongue scraping improves taste
Dr. Rashmi Byakodi, a dentist and health and wellness writer at Best for Nutrition, says daily tongue cleaning can “improve the taste sensation and reduce reinfection of periodontal niches by eliminating putrefaction by bacteria.”
Translation? Two weeks of tongue scraping can potentially improve the sense of taste and who doesn’t want their food to taste better? Plus, by “reducing the putrefaction of bacteria” you are essentially helping to freshen your breath. Tongue scrapers for the win!
2. Tongue scraping protects our bodies from harmful bacteria
Salila Sukumaran, an Ayurveda educator and wellness travel advisor, explains, “The squishy, moist mucosal lining of the tongue is a favorite hang out for bacteria. When the bacteria have feasted and purged all night, we wake up with a layer of white gunk called ‘soft plaque.’”
By using a tongue scraper to gently scrape out this plaque, you can improve oral hygiene. And surprisingly, cleaning the surface of the tongue also prevents dead bacteria from hitching a ride into the stomach.
“Our stomach acids are strong enough to dissolve metal,” says Sukumaran, “but genetic material from dead bacteria debris may find sneaky ways to get into our bloodstream and our vital organs.” No wonder some cultures have been tongue scraping for millennia!
3. Tongue scraping reduces plaque
Dr. Byakodi agrees with Sukumaran that tongue scraping reduces plaque and further explains.
“Our oral surface harbors over 500 bacterial species, and the tongue has the most massive bacterial colonization. There is also a continuous shedding of cells of the surface layer of epithelium from the tongue and palate and the availability of oral debris from these sites could contribute to plaque formation on the teeth. Therefore, reducing the load of bacteria on the tongue may help in reducing the rate of plaque formation on the tooth.”
4. Tongue scraping removes bacteria
Dental research has concluded tongue scraping is more effective in removing bacteria and toxins from the tongue than a traditional toothbrush. Although brushing and flossing will loosen and move debris around, they do not actually remove bacteria. (But still, you definitely want to keep brushing and flossing as part of your daily routine!)
How to scrape your tongue
Scraping your tongue may sound painful, but it’s super simple and doesn’t hurt in the least. First, purchase a tongue scraper at your local drug store or online. You might also be able to snag one from your dentist’s office after your annual teeth cleaning. In India, rural residents use scrapers made of fresh mango leaves and coconut leaves which also perfume the mouth with a fruity taste.
Once you have your tongue scraper, use it first thing in the morning upon rising. I also like to use mine at the end of the day at the conclusion of my meals accompanied with my bedtime teeth brushing.
Standing in the front of a mirror, scrape your tongue by simply holding the two ends of the tongue scraper in both hands so the flexible tool is bent and shaped like a “U.”
Next, stick out your tongue and place the tongue scraper as far back on your tongue as possible. With a firm, but gentle pressure, scrape the surface of your tongue in one long stroke. Rinse the scraper and repeat until your tongue feels clean and is free of coating, usually five to ten times. Don’t forget the sides of the tongue either!
Tongue scraping may not be something you automatically think of when you think of practicing proper oral hygiene, but with so many benefits, it’s a tool you will want to start using every day.