Scraping the tongue can help reduce bad breath – 05/24/2023 – Equilibrium
I’ve heard that scraping your tongue is good for oral health and can prevent bad breath. And truth?
Scraping the tongue involves using a special instrument to remove the coating, a white or yellowish coating that sometimes forms on the tongue. Coating is made from an accumulation of food residue, dead cells and bacteria, says Martinna Bertolini, associate professor of dental medicine at the University of Pittsburgh School of Dental Medicine.
“The tongue is the only tissue in the entire body that has papillae,” says Bertolini, pointing to the tiny bumps that help the tongue grip food as we eat and that sometimes include taste buds. These structures, in addition to the grooves that some people have on their tongue, create small pockets where waste can accumulate.
Tongue cleaners are designed to scrape off that discolored layer, which often has a strong odor. They are usually made of stainless steel, silicone or plastic and come in many different styles. Normally you hold the ends of the cleaner and press the other side over the tongue, making a scraping motion.
Why clean the tongue?
The accumulation of waste on the tongue smells bad because it can have colonies of bacteria living on it, says Ananda Dasanayake, professor of epidemiology at the New York University School of Dentistry. Some of these bacteria produce gases “that smell really bad,” he says. It is one of the reasons for halitosis, or persistent bad breath.
Halitosis is the main reason why the dentist may recommend scraping the tongue, says periodontist Isabelle Laleman, from CHU de Liége, a Belgian teaching hospital. According to her, existing treatments against bad breath are limited. The person can use a mouthwash such as Listerine, but this will only mask the smell. The best option for combating bad breath, according to Laleman, is to physically remove the source of the bad smell by cleaning the tongue.
Few studies have been done so far on the effectiveness of tongue scraping in reducing bad breath and bacterial buildup, and the results have been mixed. A review published in 2010 concluded that scraping and brushing the tongue can improve breath and reduce coating.
Other studies, including one that Laleman participated in and published in 2017, found that among 18 patients with periodontitis –a severe form of gum disease–, tongue scraping made no difference to the amount of bacteria or the patients’ mouth odor ( although they said they felt their tongue was cleaner).
If your breath improves with tongue scraping, Bertolini says it’s important to keep in mind that these benefits will be temporary. “If you don’t scrape your tongue daily, the problem will come back,” he says.
Should you start scraping your tongue?
Bertolini recommends tongue scraping only for patients with halitosis. If you have a history of gum disease, it’s a good idea to minimize the amount of bacteria in your mouth, so scraping your tongue regularly could theoretically be helpful, she says. But if you’re healthy and don’t have halitosis, you won’t be harmed if you don’t.
Even so, Bertolini and Dasanayake scrape their tongue daily after brushing their teeth (twice a day in Bertolini’s case and after every meal in Dasanayake’s case). Laleman points out that he only scrapes his tongue when he realizes he has bad breath, but says people can try it if they feel like it.
Scraping the tongue is not risky. The only potential problem is hurting your tongue if you scrape too hard, says Bertolini.
What is the correct technique?
Using the tongue scraper is intuitive, says Dasanayake. It’s a simple scraping motion that must be repeated at least three or four times to cover the entire tongue. Dasanayake prefers scrapers with serrated edges that allow more access to the grooves on the tongue.
If you don’t want to buy a tongue scraper, you can use a spoon, says Laleman. The shape is similar, but it can be more difficult to reach the back of the tongue with a spoon.
Some people ask if they can use your toothbrush, but Bertolini doesn’t recommend that. For starters, “the pharyngeal reflex is worse” with a toothbrush, he indicates. And some studies suggest that a toothbrush isn’t as effective as a tongue scraper.
Bertolini says he really doesn’t see any downside to shaving the tongue. If you’re curious about this, most pharmacies sell tongue scrapers, which are usually not expensive. You may feel subtle changes in your breath over time, or you may just enjoy the feeling of your tongue being cleaner. And you might find that you like this addition to your skin care routine.
Translated by Clara Allain