How to Scrape Your Tongue for Optimal Oral Health

How important is it to clean your tongue? I've seen tongue scrapers at the drugstore but am wondering if they really help.

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Hi, I’m Dr. B, practicing functional dentist for 35 years. I graduated from the Dugoni School of Dentistry in San Francisco, CA in 1987 and am a member of the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine (AADSM), Academy of General Dentistry (Chicago, IL), American Academy for Oral Systemic Health (AAOSH), and Dental Board of California. I'm on a mission to empower people everywhere with the same evidence-based, easy-to-understand dental health advice that my patients get. Learn more about Dr. B

Q: Dr. B, how important is it to clean your tongue? I've seen tongue scrapers at the drugstore but am wondering if they really help.

A: You might be under the impression that brushing your teeth and flossing them daily are the two most important things to achieve good oral hygiene.

And they are!

But there’s one more thing that needs to be done for a clean and healthy mouth and that’s using a tongue scraper to clean your tongue.

Tongue scraping is painless and easy. You might even find you become addicted to the feeling of a clean tongue that can taste flavors better and makes your mouth feel clean and fresh.

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What is a tongue scraper?

A tongue scraper is designed to clean the bacterial build-up, food debris, yeast cells, and dead cells from the surface of the tongue. This bacterial build-up and food debris is related to many common oral and general health problems, and is important to remove.

There are a few different kinds of tongue scrapers, but they’re all cheap and available at drugstores and grocery stores. You might even be able to snag a free one at your dentist’s office.

The benefit of a plastic tongue scraper is that they’re often disposable.

I like to use a stainless steel tongue scraper to reduce my exposure to plastics. The stainless steel also makes it easier to clean. For the exact tongue scraper I use, click here.

Why is it important to clean your tongue?

It’s essential to oral health. Cleaning your tongue, especially the back part, removes bacteria and toxins responsible for plaque, tooth decay, and gum disease.

It will enhance your taste buds and the flavors you experience. Your taste buds can be blocked by all the junk that builds up on your tongue and removing this buildup will better expose your taste buds and enhance the flavor of the food you eat.

It will boost your immunity. Scraping all that bacteria and food buildup off of your tongue will prevent toxins from getting reabsorbed by your body. Tongue scraping is especially crucial while you’re sick since a lot of junk can get built up back there.

It will improve your digestive health. Tongue scraping promotes saliva production, which helps with your digestion.

It will banish bad breath. Some estimates are that 80 to 95% of bad breath comes from the build-up of food, bacteria, fungi, and dead cells that accumulate at the very back of the tongue. The front of your tongue might look pink and healthy, but if you stick your tongue out all the way and look in the mirror, you’ll see that buildup way in back – and that’s what people can smell.

An analogy I like to use is this: Imagine your tongue is a carpet of mushrooms (which are actually your taste-buds). Whenever you eat or drink something, tiny particles get trapped within the network of these mushrooms. These particles can’t detach through normal rinsing or brushing. This is when tongue scraping becomes important. A clean tongue ensures that your mouth is free of harmful bacteria that can cause oral problems like decay of teeth and bad breath.

How do you use a tongue scraper?

1. Take your tongue scraper and keep your mouth wide open as you push your tongue out a little bit. By doing this, you make your tongue easier to reach.

2. Hold the two ends of the tongue scraper and take it to the back most portion of the tongue. You may experience a gag reflex when the scraper touches the rear part of the tongue. Initially you may not be able to control your gag reflex, but you’ll quickly get used to it and become able to scrape further back on the tongue.

3. Gently run the scraper from the back of your tongue to the front of your tongue. During this stroke, the scraper rubs against the tongue surface and the food debris gets collected on the rough surface of the scraper while it’s in contact with the tongue.

4. You will find a yellowish exudate coming out on the scraper if you haven’t scraped in a while. As you do this more and more, the exudate will be clear in color. Initially you may have to scrape your tongue everyday and then taper it off to once every few days or once a week, depending on your preference.

What are the benefits of tongue scraping?

  • Scraping your tongue can reduce bad breath substantially. Bad breath (or halitosis) is due to the action of bacteria on the food particles stuck on the tongue which causes the release of volatile sulphur compounds (VSCs). They are foul smelling compounds.
  • Tongue scraping is an effective remedy for coated tongue. Your tongue can get coated due to bacterial or fungal colonization. A mesh is formed due to trapping of dead cells and food particles. This complex network gives the look of a layer on the tongue.
  • An unscraped tongue can lead to taste alterations due to clogging of taste buds. A tongue scraper can solve your problem of metallic taste.
  • It will change the color of your tongue from a darkly stained one to a normal one.

If bad breath continues, see your dentist. Bad breath can be an indicator of a more serious condition if it persists even if you’re scraping your tongue, flossing, and brushing properly.

Mark Burhenne DDS

Learn More: How to Brush Your Teeth the Right Way