Tongue scrapers have been getting more popular lately as a result of an “oral health craze” amongst people. There are worse crazes going on, to be sure, but on the flip side, not every miracle treatment and device is what it’s purported to be. Let’s investigate whether this holds true for tongue scrapers.
Tongue scrapers have been with us for a long time. Even the ancient Romans used to scrape their tongues to better clean their mouth, and the practice was widespread in Enlightenment era Europe as well. The first modern tongue scraper hit the market in 1951. Tongue scraping is an important part of Ayurveda, which is traditional Indian medicine, and is recommended as part of daily oral hygiene regimen, where it goes by the name of “Jihwa Prakshalana”. The principle behind tongue scraping is sound. It is performed using simple and cheap, mass-produced devices called tongue scrapers.
Tongue scraping is used to remove bacteria, plaque, food debris, dead cells and various fungi from the surface of the tongue. By removing this film of food and bacteria, the tongue is cleaned. This means there is less risk of developing various fungal infections.
Tongue scraping also helps improve bad breath, as most of the bad breath causing bacteria live on the surface of the tongue. Most of what we know as bad breath comes from sulphur compounds, which are produced by these bacteria, and about 90% of cases of bad breath can be traced to this phenomenon.
Their usage is simple. You put the scraper at the back of the tongue and pull it forwards towards the front. You should be able to observe the white film of plaque and bacteria that is being scraped. Rinse it after every scrape to avoid re-introducing the same bacteria back again into your mouth. Rinse your mouth as well after scraping; you can use mouthwash for this purpose.
As for their effectiveness, the jury is still out. There is no hard and conclusive evidence that these tongue scrapers work, but in any case, they can hardly do any harm. The underlying theory is sound, and tongue scrapers definitely are the thing to try if you are having issues with bad breath, where it may be of great benefit.
A few studies have shown that there are some benefits in using tongue scrapers daily; namely, it reduces bad breath and levels of bacteria in the mouth. Some studies have shown that it reduces sulphur compounds by up to 75%, which is more than the 45% achieved just by brushing your teeth and tongue with a regular toothbrush. This could mean that if you are struggling with halitosis, tongue scrapers could prove to be a valuable tool in ensuring your breath stays as fresh as possible.
Some of the side effects of tongue scraping are related to too vigorous scraping. If you put the scraper too far at the back of your mouth, you might experience a gag reflex or even vomit, depending on how sensitive you are. Scraping too hard may damage the surface of the tongue, causing pain, discomfort and a reduced sensation of taste. Fortunately, these side effects are easily avoidable with proper use. Be gentle and patient when scraping; it does not take long anyway. Children should not be given tongue scrapers, are they represent a choking hazard and they might not be able to use them effectively; causing harm to teeth and gingiva in the process.
Should you use tongue scrapers? Well, yes and no. They will hardly harm you and there is some evidence that they may be effective. However, use them only as a supplementary method of oral health care along with flossing, regular brushing and rinsing with mouthwash. You should still brush your teeth twice a day and use dental floss; tongue scrapers may be used, but never forget to do the usual routine.
Also, not forget to visit your dentist every once in a while, even if everything is A-OK with your teeth – once or twice a year is a bare minimum, especially if you struggle with halitosis that does not seem to go away. Your dentist will then be able to help you and treat the underlying condition that is responsible for bad breath in the first place.