There are certain parts of our hygiene routine that we assume we have down pat, one of which is certainly brushing our teeth.
Dentists recommend that you brush your teeth a minimum of twice per day, if not after every meal.
But, fewer people are aware of the important practice of tongue scraping, let alone how to tongue scrape properly. So, what is tongue scraping, exactly?
Are tongue scrapers safe, and should you scrape your tongue every day? What are the benefits of tongue scraping? Do you need to use a metal tongue scraper, or can you brush your tongue with your toothbrush to reap the benefits of tongue scraping?
In this tongue scraping guide, we will discuss what tongue scraping entails, the benefits of tongue scraping, how to use a tongue scraper, and how often you should scrape your tongue.
We will look at the following:
- What Is Tongue Scraping?
- What Are the Benefits of Tongue Scraping?
- How to Tongue Scrape
Let’s get started!
What Is Tongue Scraping?
Tongue scraping is a health and hygiene practice that involves using a metal tongue scraper or another type of tongue scraper to help remove bacteria, dead cells, biofilm, debris, and microscopic food particles from the surface of your tongue.
Although there are different tongue scraping devices, most of the best tongue scrapers are made from stainless steel and have either a gentle horseshoe shape or a rounded shape.
You reach the tongue scraper towards the back of your mouth and then apply some amount of pressure to the surface of your tongue as you scrape forward towards the tip of your tongue.The tongue scraper helps mechanically remove the debris and buildup on the surface of your tongue.
Even though much of the bacteria, plaque, and food particles may not be clearly visible to the naked eye, if you know how to tongue scrape properly, you can help eliminate this gunky buildup from accumulating on your tongue.
What Are the Benefits of Tongue Scraping?
Tongue scraping is sometimes lumped in with holistic healthcare practices like oil pulling or making your own deodorant because the practice of removing buildup with a tongue scraper has deep roots as an Ayurvedic practice known as “jihwa prakshalana” in Sanskrit, which translates roughly to tongue scraping.
However, even if you lean towards the conventional side of healthcare and body care, tongue scraping absolutely has merits that go beyond some sort of woo-woo “traditional medicine” practice.
In fact, many conventional “Western medicine” dentists now encourage all patients to use a tongue scraper as a more effective way to improve oral health and remove debris, bacteria, and dead cells that can build up on your tongue instead of just brushing your tongue with a regular toothbrush.
Here are some of the potential health benefits of tongue scraping:
#1: Tongue Scraping Cleans Your Tongue
Although you can’t necessarily see all of the biofilm that builds up on your tongue, there is actually a fairly thick layer that forms from dead skin cells, live and dead bacteria, food debris, dried saliva, and other trapped particles that form a coating over the surface of your tongue.
When we stick out our tongue, we are really only seeing the front half of the tongue. The actual tongue muscle extends deep and towards the back of the throat, where it can collect all sorts of bacterial and food particle buildup.
This can compromise oral health because the bacteria, plaque, and biofilm on the tongue can work their way into your gums, down your esophagus when you swallow, and into the crevices between your teeth.
If you get small cuts in your mouth, all of these bacteria and dead skin cells can enter the bloodstream, imposing a threat to your immune system.
Although some people do remember to brush their tongue when they brush their teeth, a metal tongue scraper is more effective at fully shedding this biofilm buildup layer due to the pressure and friction it creates on your tongue compared to soft, spaced-out bristles on a toothbrush.
As a result, one of the key benefits of using a tongue scraper is that you will get a much cleaner mouth, which will improve your oral health and overall body health.
#2: Tongue Scraping Improves Your Sense of Taste
Another important tongue scraper benefit is that the practice of tongue scraping can improve your sense of taste.
In fact, studies have found that tongue scraping twice a day heightens your sense of taste so that you are better able to distinguish between sweet, salty, bitter, sour, and umami flavors.
Essentially, by scraping away the biofilm buildup on the surface of your tongue, using a tongue scraper helps free up and expose the taste buds more overtly so that you can actually taste all of the nuanced flavors in your food in each specific region of the tongue.
As a rough analogy, consider the difference between looking through eyeglasses, a window, or a windshield that is cloudy or foggy with the buildup of fingerprints, moisture, or other schmutz.
You can still probably see through the glass, but the clarity will be compromised, and you will have a cloudy perception of what you are trying to visualize on the other side of the glass.
Similarly, if you do not use a tongue scraper, you can still taste your food, particularly with strong flavor profiles, but you will not have the fine-tuned distinction and full ability to taste the array of nuanced flavors with all of the microscopic gunk coating your taste buds, particularly in the way back of your tongue.
By using a metal tongue scraper to clear away this buildup, you will enjoy a heightened perception of taste, which may help you enjoy your food more without needing to eat so much in order to register the flavor profiles you are seeking.
#3: Tongue Scraping Removes Harmful Bacteria
When people think of the microbiome in the body, they often think only of the gut microbiome, which refers to the colonies of bacteria residing in the gastrointestinal tract that help digest and absorb nutrients, produce vitamins, and protect your body against pathogens, among other functions.
However, the body actually has four major distinct microbiomes (with additional smaller microbiomes): the gut microbiome, the skin microbiome, the vaginal microbiome, and the oral microbiome.
There are at least 700 unique species of microbes that inhabit the oral microbiome.
Together, they inhabit the spaces in, on, and between your teeth, gums, tongue, cheeks, salivary glands, and soft palate.
Keeping the communities of these various bacteria, fungi, and protozoa healthy is important because they not only play a key role in initiating the digestion process and keeping your gums and teeth healthy, but they also help protect your gut (and body as a whole) against incoming viruses, pathogens, and toxins before they are swallowed.
Using a tongue scraper is one of the best ways to help protect the oral microbiome from pathogenic bacteria overtaking healthy bacteria, and to support the healthy bacteria you do want in your mouth.
For example, studies have found that using a tongue scraper twice a day for seven days decreases the populations of Streptococcus mutans and Lactobacilli bacteria in the mouth.
These bacteria are associated with expediting tooth decay and causing halitosis (bad breath).
#4: Tongue Scraping Freshens Breath
Although tongue scraping shouldn’t replace regular teeth brushing, studies have found that scraping your tongue twice a day is actually more effective at freshening breath than brushing your teeth because it is a better way to actually remove the odor-causing bacteria that inhabit the oral cavity.
#5: Tongue Scraping Reduces the Risk of Cavities and Gum Disease
As mentioned, if you learn how to use a tongue scraper correctly, you will also improve your oral health because you can help eliminate the harmful bacteria that cause tooth decay, periodontal disease, gum disease, plaque formation, and bad breath.
#6: Tongue Scraping Improves the Appearance of Your Tongue
Have you ever stuck out your tongue and noticed that it looked white or had some sort of funky coating on it that wasn’t particularly attractive?
Another of the benefits of tongue scraping is that you are shedding this unattractive buildup so that your tongue looks pink, fresh, and healthy.
How to Tongue Scrape
If you do not know how to use a tongue scraper or how to tongue scrape, you may ask, “Is tongue scraping safe?“
After all, sticking something metal in your mouth and then pulling it somewhat aggressively against the surface of your tongue may have you worrying that you will damage your taste buds or other aspects of your mouth.
So, is tongue scraping safe, and should you scrape your tongue every day?
However, as long as you learn how to use a tongue scraper properly, tongue scraping is definitely safe and should be incorporated into your daily oral care routine twice a day after you brush your teeth.
The good news is that once you learn how to do tongue scraping, the entire process takes only one to two minutes.
Here is how to tongue scrape:
- Use a stainless steel or a copper metal tongue scraper, as these tools resist bacterial buildup and are much easier to clean than plastic tongue scrapers.
- Stand in front of the mirror and stick out your tongue as far as possible.
- Reach the rounded end or horseshoe end of the tongue scraper all the way back as far as you can. This may induce the gagging reflex when you first start but go gently at first or gradually work your way towards reaching further back as you get accustomed to how to tongue scrape.
- Apply gentle but firm pressure on the tongue scraper as you drag it forward all the way to the tip of your tongue. Never go from the tip to the back of your tongue; always tongue scrape in the forward direction.
- Rinse or wipe off the tongue scraper with a damp washcloth after each scrape before beginning the next pull forward.
- Keep scraping until you cover the entire surface of your tongue, including the sides.
- Wash the tongue scraper with hot, soapy water and rinse it thoroughly so that it’s cleaned right away and ready for the next use.
Ultimately, using a tongue scraper can improve and freshen breath, support the health of your entire oral cavity, and improve your sense of taste.
Tongue scraping is not intended to replace regular teeth brushing altogether but rather to be a supplemental yet integral step in your oral hygiene routine much like flossing your teeth.
For another one of our hygiene guides, check out: Stress Sweat Vs Regular Sweat + 4 Tips To Help Manage It.