What is tongue scraping?
Tongue scraping is a fast way to remove extra particles — including the ones that cause bad breath — from the surface of your tongue. It’s done with a small, slightly rounded tool made from plastic or metal.
Although no amount of scraping can replace a good toothbrushing, its purported benefits have enticed quite a few to add this extra step to their morning and evening routines.
Read on to learn more about how tongue scraping can improve your oral health, common misconceptions to keep in mind, and how to get started.
How is tongue scraping beneficial?
Debris, bacteria, and dead cells can build up on your tongue over time. This can lead to bad breath and have a negative impact on your overall oral health.
Using a tongue scraper can help remove this buildup, as well as:
- Improve your sense of taste. Older research suggests that using a tongue scraper twice daily can improve your sense of taste. Your tongue may be able to better distinguish between bitter, sweet, salty, and sour sensations.
- Improve the appearance of your tongue. Buildup of excess debris can cause your tongue to take on a white, coated appearance. Daily scraping can help remove this coating and prevent it from returning.
- Remove bacteria. Researchers in one 2005 study found that using a tongue scraper twice a day for seven days reduced the overall incidence of Mutans streptococci and Lactobacilli bacteria in the mouth. These bacteria types are known to cause bad breath and dental decay.
- Improve overall health. Removing bacteria is key to preventing cavities, gum disease, and other conditions affecting the mouth. Tongue scraping can help clear these bacteria from the mouth, improving your tongue’s appearance and overall sensation.
- Reduce bad breath. Although tongue scraping can’t replace brushing your teeth, scraping may do some things better. Researchers in one 2004 study found that scraping was more effective than brushing at removing odor-causing bacteria.
Is there anything tongue scraping can’t do?
A common misconception about tongue scraping is that it offers extended benefits in reducing bad breath. Although scraping can help banish bad breath, consistency is key.
For example, using a tongue scraper in the morning won’t prevent bad breath from developing later in the day. Bacteria will build up as you eat and drink, so if you’re concerned about bad breath, you’ll need to scrape after every meal.
At a minimum, scrape your tongue when you brush your teeth. This will help prevent long-term buildup that’s associated with severe bad breath.
Another misconception is that using a toothbrush on your tongue is just as effective as using a tongue scraper. The results of one 2004 study suggest otherwise. Researchers found that tongue scrapers removed 30 percent more volatile sulfur compounds on the tongue than a soft-bristled toothbrush.
Although cleaning your tongue with a toothbrush is better than not cleaning it at all, using a tongue scraper is more effective.
How to perform a tongue scraping
To perform tongue scraping, you’ll need the right tool — a tongue scraper. A quick search for tongue scrapers can reveal lots of options. These include ones made from plastic, copper, and stainless steel.
Most will have a slightly rounded shape, much like an inverted spoon. If you’re in a pinch, household items like a spoon (clean, of course) or your toothbrush will do. However, they may not remove as much odor-causing bacteria as a dedicated tongue scraper.
To perform tongue scraping, follow these steps:
- Stand in front of a mirror, open your mouth, and stick out your tongue.
- Gently set the rounded end of the tongue scraper at the back of your tongue.
- If you’re worried about gagging, you may find it helpful to start at the middle of your tongue. You can gradually start from farther back as you get used to scraping.
- Gently touch the scraper to your tongue. Slowly pull it forward, toward the tip of your tongue. You should never push the scraper from the tip of your tongue back. Always go from the back of the tongue to the tip.
- After each scrape, use a washcloth or tissue to remove debris from the scraper.
- Repeat until you’ve scraped the entire surface of your tongue. One to two scrapes across the same area is usually enough.
- Wash the tongue scraper with warm water and soap, dry, and store in a clean, dry area.
The entire process usually takes less than two minutes. Repeat as needed throughout the day.
Are there any side effects or risks to consider?
One of the biggest concerns about tongue scraping is stimulating the gag reflex. This could make you vomit while tongue scraping.
To avoid this, refrain from placing the scraper too far back on your tongue. When you first start scraping, you may find it helpful to scrape from the middle of your tongue to the tip. You can gradually start from farther back as you get used to the sensation.
It’s also possible to accidentally cut the surface of your tongue with the scraper.
To prevent this from occurring, make sure your tongue scraper doesn’t have any uneven or rough edges. You should inspect your scraper before every use to ensure that it’s still safe to use.
You should be mindful of how much pressure you’re applying. You want to be gentle enough to avoid harming your taste buds or breaking the skin, but firm enough to scrape up excess debris. When in doubt, start soft and gradually increase the pressure.
Products to try
Tongue scrapers can be made with plastic or different metals. Which one you choose depends on your personal preference.
Metal tongue scrapers are generally thought to last longer. Many are dishwasher-safe, too. Plastic ones are usually cheaper, but may need to be replaced more frequently. Most tongue scrapers cost less than $10.
Examples of some of the more popular and highly rated tongue scrapers on Amazon include:
- Dr. Tung’s tongue cleaner, stainless steel
- Health and Yoga surgical-grade stainless steel tongue scraper
- Health and Yoga copper tongue cleaner
- WowE tongue cleaner, copper
- Sunstar GUM dual action tongue cleaner, plastic
- Pureline Oralcare tongue cleaner, plastic
- The Original TUNG Brush tongue cleaner
Other ways to improve your oral health
Tongue scraping can be beneficial, but you won’t achieve your desired results if you aren’t taking a well-rounded approach to oral hygiene.
You can help maintain and even improve your overall oral health if you:
- Use a fluoride-based toothpaste and mouthwash to help fight cavities.
- Brush your teeth and gums at least twice a day.
- Make sure you brush for at least two minutes. Set a timer or play a song on your phone to help ensure that each session is long enough.
- Floss at least once a day to remove tough-to-reach debris between your teeth.
- Drink plenty of water throughout the day to reduce dry mouth, a common cause of bad breath.
- Avoid using tobacco products, which can contribute to buildup on the tongue.
You should also see your dentist for regular checkups and cleanings. Most dentists recommend cleanings twice a year, but you may need to go more frequently depending on your overall dental health.
When to see your dentist
Although home methods like tongue scraping can help reduce tongue buildup, it isn’t a cure-all.
See your dentist right away if you’re dealing with chronic dry mouth or have a “hairy tongue.” They can assess your symptoms and determine whether you’d benefit from more frequent cleanings, special mouthwash, or other treatment options.
Sometimes, tongue scraping can reveal symptoms that your dentist should evaluate. This includes white patches in the mouth. Such patches are usually caused by oral thrush or leukoplakia and can be treated under your dentist’s supervision.
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