It may be time to add a new step to your toothbrushing routine. Tongue-scraping, a traditional Ayurvedic self-care practice, has become a popular way to take oral hygiene to the next level. But before you rush out to buy tongue-scrapers, you probably want to know: Are the benefits of tongue-scraping legit? Leena Palomo, DDS, a board-certified periodontist and chair of the Ashman Department of Periodontology & Implant Dentistry at NYU, explains whether or not you really need a tongue-scraper.
What is tongue-scraping?
Tongue-scraping is just like it sounds: The practice of scraping the surface of your tongue, usually with a metal or plastic manual device called, yep, a tongue-scraper that looks a bit like an upside down U. (Although some experts say a spoon might be an alternative — though how well it works is uncertain). It’s a step in your dental hygiene routine you can do as often as once or twice a day.
The purported benefits of tongue-scraping
Your tongue spends all its time in the wet, warm, and dark environment of your mouth. In other words, bacteria’s dream home. “The bacteria tend to hang around the little bumps [called papillae] on the tongue,” says Palomo.
Bacteria like this are often what causes bad breath (aka halitosis). The idea is that “when you run [a tongue-scraper] across your tongue, it removes those bacteria [and] it also removes any food debris or anything else caught under these little mushroom-shaped papillae.” The benefits of tongue-scraping are supposedly fresher breath, while also removing the white coating that can build up on the tongue’s surface.
OK, so does tongue-scraping work?
Well, actually, it probably doesn’t hurt. Tongue-scraping is a relatively harmless step in your oral routine (as long as you don’t press too hard) but it may not be necessary for everyone. Partly because “the research around tongue-scraping becomes murky very quickly,” says Palomo. There’s not enough science on the topic to know how tongue-scraping affects specific bacteria and the overall health of your mouth.
Still, “tongue-scrapers are definitely a good option,” says Palomo. And when you’re weighing the difference between a toothbrush vs a tongue-scraper, know that the friction of either against your tongue can help remove malodor-causing bacteria.
Palomo suggests checking with your dentist before adding tongue-scraping to your routine. If your dentist recommends it, or if you feel like you have frequent bad breath, trying this could have some of those ideal tongue-scraping side effects such as fresher breath and fewer bad bacteria. But if you’re brushing and flossing regularly and don’t have any oral health issues, experts say it’s not a required step, since it may not make a big difference to your oral health overall.
It may be worth asking about tongue-scraping the next time you’re at your dentist’s office. While it’s unclear how beneficial tongue-scraping is for your oral hygiene, many experts agree it’s not a bad idea to remove some bacteria from your mouth. Plus, it may give you some added freshness.
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