Depending on who you ask, tongue scraping is an essential part of oral hygiene. Some people put it at a similar level of brushing teeth, only for your tongue.
Like oil pulling, a natural teeth whitening system, scraping comes from Ayurvedic medicine. Ayurveda is the practice of traditional Indian medicine, and it recommends tongue scraping as a regular part of good dental practices.
Because of this, you can find scrapers dating back to around the 15th century. But given our massive technological advances, is there any point in continuing the practice today?
In this article, you'll find everything you need to consider tongue scraping as part of your dental routine.
What Is A Tongue Scraper: Overview
A tongue scraper is a u-shaped scraping device with two handles on either end. They can be made of either plastic or stainless steel and might have small rakes along the inside of the "u" to assist in cleaning your tongue.
Sometimes, the two handles are combined into a single handle. Regardless, you'll still find the familiar u shape that you can wrap around your tongue.
There are other designs, such as one similar to a toothbrush, that you drag along the top of your tongue. Rakes along the top of the scraper behave similarly to your toothbrush.
Regardless of your design, they are gentle enough for regular use.
When And How To Use A Tongue Scraper?
The best time to use a tongue scraper is once during your day or night brushes. This way, you can combine it with current dental habits, making it easier to remember.
Another time you might consider using this scraper is when you have a white tongue. This whiteness is a sign your tongue is covered with debris, bacteria, and dead cells.
In extreme cases, this whiteness leads to oral thrush, when a fungus lines your tongue and (sometimes) the upper part of your mouth. However, most people are unlikely to get this condition, as it's more common in babies, older adults, or others who need help with good dental practices.
If you suspect oral thrush, consult your dentist before using a scraper. You might also consult a dentist if you have other unusual colors like a yellow tongue. Otherwise, those with general whiteness can use it without risk.
To use it, you will want to position the scraper near the back of your tongue. Then, applying gentle pressure, drag it to the front of your tongue.
The Benefits Of Tongue Scraping
Despite dating back to ancient times, there are some benefits to scraping your tongue. Below, you'll find out more about those potential benefits.
One study found that a tongue scraper was more effective at removing VSCs (volatile sulfur compounds) than standard toothbrushes. These compounds are made by bacteria and spread throughout your mouth, creating a better environment for more bacteria to grow.
Despite the limited data, there is some evidence that tongue scraping effectively removes bacteria. At the very least, you can use it to remove debris, which can foster an environment supporting your bacteria.
Better Sense Of Taste
Tongue scrapers were found to improve taste sensations. After all, the scraping removes the debris from your mouth, clearing it up to taste more food.
The white covering on your tongue doesn't inhibit your taste senses but can dull them. So, clearing the bacteria and debris off leaves an opening for your taste buds.
You won't damage your taste buds if you use the right amount of pressure. If you are experiencing pain after using a tongue scraper, it's a sign you might be too rough. It also might be a sign of other health-related issues.
Activates Organs For Better Digestion
Tongue scraping is said to activate the organs related to your digestive tract. Using the scraper to "massage" your tongue can potentially stimulate your digestive system, potentially improving overall gut health.
Despite these beliefs, there is little to no evidence of this claim in reality. Some might cite this from personal experience, which only translates to a narrow audience.
Regardless, scraping can encourage the production of saliva, which is the first stage of digestion. This is why some might tell you that watermelon is good for teeth. More saliva breaks down bacteria, which leads to a healthier mouth.
Remove Excess Debris
One benefit everyone can agree on when it comes to scrapers is the removal of excess debris. This is similar to using a toothbrush to clean your tongue, as it clears whatever lingering substance.
Some debris might include old food, stuck-on fluoride, or bacteria. Regardless of the material, removing it from your tongue is good before it gets a chance to linger.
But if you have spots on your tongue, that's a sign of something else.
Removes Bad Breath
Lingering debris from our previous section can eventually lead to bad breath. Old food doesn't just stick on the teeth, as your tongue receives all of the secondary chunks from your food.
In this way, tongue scraping can perform the same support as a mouthwash. Certain mouthwash products are meant to leave behind a pleasant wintergreen scent, making your mouth feel clean.
When combining mouthwash with a tongue scraper, you can use the strong acidic content to remove debris weakened by the scraper. It would be best to rinse your mouth at the end of every scraping.
If you have bad breath alongside another unusual condition, like a purple tongue, consult your dentist.
Boosts Overall Health
Taking steps to address your mouth and digestive health can improve overall health. Good health often starts with small things, and cleaning your mouth is an excellent way to start.
The ancient practice believes that scraping can lead to the removal of "Ama." This Sanskrit word translates to "undigested," referring to everything in a state of incomplete transformation.
In modern medical practices, the closest connection we can make here goes back to our discussion on food debris. Despite how clean of an eater you are, residue is bound to get stuck on your tongue.
This debris has yet to go through digestion, making it incomplete and potentially harmful. So despite some understandable skepticism behind Ayurveda, the alternative medicine approach this is based on, there is some wisdom to the practice.
Tongue Scraping Side Effects
Given all of the potential benefits that come from tongue scraping, some side effects come from it. Thankfully, given the simplicity of the practice, these side effects are pretty minor.
The most common side effect is activating your gag reflex. If you are new to any practice, you might need a different position for scraping.
Going too far back in your mouth can lead to you gagging. Keep this in mind if you have a sensitive gag reflex.
Other than potentially making you gag, tongue scrapers can lead to some minor injuries. Much like with the gag reflex, this often happens with people new to the practice.
You should learn how hard to go with the scraper through regular use. This is more likely to happen with stainless steel scrapers, as they are made of tougher stuff.
Discomfort might occur if you have pre-existing conditions, like tongue ulcers. So avoid scraping if there's anything unusual going on.
Should You Scrape Your Tongue?
Scraping your tongue might be particularly beneficial if you have a large amount of debris. If you find it difficult to remove with a standard toothbrush, scraping might be a great alternative.
For everyone else, it can be a great way to remind yourself to clean your tongue while brushing your teeth. If you tend to forget (which everyone has!), having a specific tool for tongue cleaning always keeps it in the back of your mind.
Remember that while scraping can clean your tongue, it won't help with some conditions. For example, herpes on the tongue requires action from your medical professional and scraping won't help.
Steps To Scrape Your Tongue
So, if you've gotten to this point in the article and have decided to purchase a tongue scraper, you might need help figuring out where to start. Thankfully, you can follow these steps to simplify the process:
- Start by positioning the scraper so it's located near the back of your tongue (if you gag a bit, you've gone too far).
- Slowly drag the scraper to the front of your tongue, applying minimal pressure (The same amount you use to brush your teeth).
- Repeat this two or three times to ensure a thorough scraping, pointing the scraper, so the debris goes into the sink.
- Rinse your mouth with water or mouthwash at the end of the scraping.
Regardless of what type of tongue scraper you use, these steps can help you. These apply to both the u-shaped and connected scrapers.
If you have a rake-shaped scraper, these steps can also apply. But since they have a bit more girth, they might be less appealing if you have a sensitive gag reflex.
Are Tongue Scrapers Good For You?
Provided that you regularly clean the tongue scraper, they are good for you. As another tool in your dental arsenal, they are great for reminding you to clean your tongue.
However, some of the claims made about better digestive health are questionable. So, while they might be good for improving oral health, a toothbrush can often do the same.
So, ask yourself if you often remember to clean your tongue while brushing your teeth. If you forget, this is normal, and a scraper might be a good investment.
Are Tongue Scrapers Safe?
Provided that they are well made and come from a reputable source, tongue scrapers are incredibly safe. Nothing suggests they might be harmful to your teeth or tongue.
Stainless steel scrapers might be generally safer, as they are easier to disinfect. You can boil the scraper every week to disinfect it quickly. Just try not to use the scraper shortly after boiling, as that might lead to a burned tongue.
Plastic scrapers can still be cleaned using warm soapy water. Hand cleaning is less effective than using high temperatures to disinfect.
Situations where tongue scrapers aren't safe typically come from unusual circumstances. For example, if you have a tingling tongue, consult your dentist before introducing anything else.
Should You Use A Tongue Scraper Before Or After Brushing?
You should use a tongue scraper after brushing but before rinsing out your mouth. Using the toothbrush first can help loosen debris in your teeth. After brushing, you can use the scraper to remove debris from your teeth and into the sink.
There's no wrong order when it comes to tongue scraping. You can choose to do it first if you'd like it. But most people on the internet agree that using a tongue scraper after brushing is more effective.
Studies tell us that tongue scraping leads to less debris, fewer bacteria, and a better sense of taste. Other potential benefits might link to gut health and activating the digestive process, but there isn't enough data to confirm this.
Regardless, the benefits of scraping heavily outweigh any potential risks. The only possible side effects from scraping are activating your gag reflex and cutting your tongue. Cutting might only happen if you are too rough.
Despite dating back to ancient times, there is some wisdom in the practice. Much like oil pulling, ancient Indian medicine has some potential insight for us. But as always, this is a supplement for brushing, flossing, and using mouthwash, not a replacement.
How Do You Clean Your Tongue Scraper?
You can clean your tongue scraper using warm, soapy water. After its washed, dry it immediately to discourage the build-up of unwanted bacteria. However, you'll want to replace your tongue scraper every three months.
How Do You Clean Your Tongue Without A Scraper?
You can use a spoon to clean your tongue if you don't own a scraper. Your spoon (assuming it's clean) is similar to the scraper's shape. However, spoons might not be as effective as a regular tongue scraper, given they don't have rakes. Alternatively, your toothbrush (brushing back to front on your tongue) is helpful in a pinch.
Why Is My Tongue Still White After Scraping?
While a tongue scraper helps get rid of the white stuff on your tongue, it might take a couple of tries to get it off. Because this white stuff is built up of bacteria, it sometimes takes more than one session to make it work. Good oral hygiene and continued scraper use should eventually remove this layer.
Are Tongue Scrapers Bad For Your Tongue?
No, tongue scrapers are not bad for your tongue and will not damage your taste buds if you use them correctly. If it hurts when you use it, you are pressing too hard. Be sure to use the same amount of pressure on your toothbrush to avoid injuring yourself.
Do Dentists Recommend Tongue Scrapers?
According to the American Dental Association (ADA), dentists do not recommend tongue scrapers as part of your regular oral care routine. There's no harm in adding a tongue scraper to your routine, but it is not a replacement for good tooth care. For good oral hygiene, try brushing twice daily, flossing, and using a fluoride mouthwash.
Do Tongue Scrapers Damage Taste Buds?
No, tongue scrapers do not damage your taste buds. However, if you decide to press too hard on your tongue, you might end up injuring your tongue. Taste buds regenerate themselves about every two weeks, so while you could temporarily lose taste on the injured part of your tongue, you should get it back shortly.
Is It OK To Use A Tongue Scraper Every Day?
Some experts believe that using a tongue scraper every day is fine. They compare it to using a scrubbing tool versus a broom, as scraping your tongue is more likely to get the bacteria and debris out of your mouth. Despite the lack of ADA approval and limited studies, there's no harm in doing it every day.
Do Tongue Scrapers Improve Your Sense Of Taste?
According to a 2004 study, tongue scrapers are effective for regaining your taste sensation. So yes, some evidence tells us tongue scrapers improve your taste. The idea is that germs will no longer cover them, leaving them free to taste food fully (and not through a film of mouth debris).
What Happens If You Don't Scrape Your Tongue?
If you don't scrape your tongue, you might have more bacteria in your mouth than in those who do. Evidence of this can be seen in the white color of your tongue, which is a sign that it hasn't been scraped in a while. You might also have worse breath than your neighbors.
Should You Brush Your Tongue After Scraping It?
Brushing your tongue and teeth before using a scraper would be best. This is because your toothbrush is better at "kicking up" any mouth debris, which can then be removed with the scraper. Regardless, mouthwash always comes at the end of your brushing, as you'll want to rinse the debris.
Should I Boil My Tongue Scraper?
If your tongue scraper can be boiled, you can do so to sterilize it at least once a week for five minutes. Some scrapers aren't made of plastic which will warp in hot water, so don't boil these. Metal scrapers are for long-term use and are often better for boiling. Please have a look at your owner's manual for details.
How Many Minutes Should I Use A Tongue Scraper?
You should only use a tongue scraper for about a minute or two, similar to the length of time you should spend brushing. If you want, use a timer you can reset after brushing, saving you from setting up a new timer. You might also set up a playlist full of two-minute songs telling you when to stop brushing your teeth and scraping your tongue.
How Often Should You Use A Tongue Scraper?
It would be best if you scraped your tongue once a day, either during the day or night (depending on your preference). Some people like to scrape after every meal, removing food debris from their mouths before they can turn to bad breath. However, you might prefer to brush your teeth after a meal instead, as that cleans your entire mouth out (not just your tongue).