Is a tongue scraper the secret to better breath?
Upgrade your oral hygiene routine with a tongue scraper.
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It’s probably been drilled into your head that you should floss once a day and brush your teeth for at least two minutes morning and night. But while taking care of your teeth and gums daily, the tongue often misses out on the TLC it deserves.
That's right: Tongue scraping daily could be the way to boost the overall health of your mouth. Devotees claim its benefits range from freshening your breath to preventing serious oral diseases. We spoke to dentists to find out the facts about tongue scraping.
What is tongue scraping?
Tongue scraping is part of an overall tongue cleaning and oral hygiene routine, in which after you brush and floss, you scrape your tongue with a rounded piece of metal (such as stainless steel or copper) or plastic. A tongue scraper should be large enough to cover most of your tongue without being uncomfortably wide, and rest flat against your tongue. Popular brands include Dr Tung’s and Orabrush, which is a two-in-one tongue brush and scraper.
“Your tongue is very similar to a floor in your home: you need to sweep it before you mop,” says Bao-Thy Grant, DDS, an oral and maxillofacial surgeon and founder of tongue scraper brand Bao Tea. “When you’re brushing your tongue, you break up food debris, dead cells, bacteria, viruses, fungus, whatever is in your mouth. But then you also have to scrape away the debris.”
Though both metal and plastic will work, you will have to replace plastic scrapers every three months like you would a toothbrush, according to Joyce Kahng, DDS, who has an active TikTok channel where she often preaches the importance of tongue scrapers. Metal scrapers, however, can be used indefinitely according to WebMD, though you should check the instructions on yours to see how long the manufacturer expects it to last.
What are the benefits of tongue scraping?
Tongue scraping can rid your mouth of harmful and odor-causing bacteria that can cause bad breath, cavities, and diseases of the mouth. It can also an help get rid of food debris left behind after eating, which is why some like to tongue scrape after every meal.
Tongue scraping can also improve the overall health of your mouth. Because your tongue can hold on to harmful bacteria, cleaning it can prevent gum inflammation and cavities, according to Cleveland Clinic. Tongue scraping may even improve sense of taste.
Tongue scraping could be particularly beneficial for those with “coated tongue,” a condition in which bacteria and debris caused by activities like smoking or drinking builds up on the tongue and creates visible residue.
“I absolutely [recommend tongue scraping], especially if your tongue is very white and you notice you are having an issue with bad breath,” says Mary Jane Hanlon, DMD, associate dean for clinical affairs at Tufts Dental School and a senior vice president for Promethean Dental Systems. “Increasing your water intake, changing medications that may cause dry mouth, or stopping your habit of smoking, chewing, or dipping tobacco, may be ways to decrease the build-up on your tongue. If this doesn’t work then you will actually have to clean your tongue.”
What can’t tongue scraping do?
Tongue scraping can’t replace good brushing and flossing habits. Bad breath can also be caused by infections such as strep throat and tonsillitis, which won’t be helped by tongue scraping (and require a physician’s help to cure).
The American Dental Association says tongue scraping is “a great way to go the extra mile” but not necessary in an oral hygiene routine because there is not enough evidence to support the idea that tongue scraping significantly reduces the amount of harmful bacteria in the mouth. The ADA recommends brushing your teeth for two minutes twice a day and flossing once a day to prevent plaque buildup, tooth decay, and dental diseases. Other hygiene steps that the ADA recommends for good oral health include eating a healthy diet and visiting your dentist twice a year or when requested by your provider.
How can you clean your tongue?
Kahng recommends scraping two times a day after brushing and flossing. Tongue scraping is low risk, but needs to be done gently. If you press as hard as you can on the scraper, you could cut your tongue and potentially damage your taste buds. “Using light pressure, scrape from the back of the tongue towards the tip of the tongue in two to five motions to cover as much surface area as possible,” she says.
You may feel nervous about tongue cleaning if you have a strong gag reflex, but brushing and scraping your tongue may help desensitize it over time. Start by brushing the middle and front of the tongue and work your way towards the back of the tongue. “Your reflexes will tell you how far back to go and when to stop,” Hanlen says.
When it comes to tongue scraping, consistency is key. Results don’t last all day, so if you’re fastidious about nixing bad breath, you’ll need to scrape after every meal, not just once in the morning and later before bed. The same holds true if you’re worried about getting ahead of coated tongue.
Finally, if your intent is to keep your tongue clean, your scraper needs to be cleaned regularly, too. Whether you're using one made of plastic or metal, Kahng recommends rinsing it every day, soaking it in a denture cleaning solution once a week. As an extra step for metal scrapers (and dishwasher-safe plastic ones) run it through the dishwasher once a month.