The tongue is one of TikTok’s latest fixations. With 4.9 million views on the hashtag #tonguescraping, people are curious about the oral health practice that’s proven to banish bad breath.
Beyond its current viral popularity, the tongue holds an important diagnostic role in Ayurveda, Traditional Chinese Medicine and modern dental and medical practices. In Ayurveda, in which using a tongue scraper has been a centuries-old practice, the different parts of the tongue connect to other organs in the body, such as the heart, kidneys and lungs, and can reflect the health of these areas. It is believed that tongue scraping helps remove the toxins from the mouth, keeping them from being digested, absorbed and affecting your overall health.
You can even see the difference: You may have noticed a light-colored coating on your tongue — this is a buildup of bacteria, debris and dead cells, which are the cause of bad breath. A tongue scraper helps eliminate these, leaving you with a cleaner, healthier mouth.
Here, we consult four dentists on everything you need to know about tongue scraping: what it is, how to do it and the best tongue scrapers to add to your oral hygiene routine.
What does a tongue scraper do?
Using a tongue scraper has a number of benefits. The primary one is eliminating bad breath and instantly giving the feeling of a cleaner mouth. “One of the leading causes of bad breath is the microscopic food particles, dead skin cells and bacteria that live on the tongue,” explains Dr. Brian Harris, lead medical advisor of Snow and Frost Oral Care. “Cleaning those things off your tongue with a tongue cleanser should absolutely be a part of your oral care routine; brushing the tongue is not enough. The best way to test this is to use a tongue scraper after you have already brushed your tongue — you will be surprised with what you can still remove even after brushing.”
Cosmetic dentist Dr. Marc Lowenberg of Lowenberg, Lituchy and Kantor in New York City also says that tongue scraping is an important step in a complete oral hygiene routine. “It can’t replace brushing, but should be done in addition to brushing, flossing and rinsing,” he says.
In addition, tongue scraping can promote a healthier mouth biome (the community of bacteria that lives in the mouth) and reduce the occurrence of inflamed gums. “[Tongue scraping] helps restore the balance of ‘good bacteria’ in the mouth by removing the ‘bad bacteria,’ thus contributing to better oral and general health,” share Dr. Haleh Abivardi and Dr. Golnar Abivardi, the founders of Vvardis.
Another benefit, the Abivardis note, is that using a tongue scraper can help keep your palate and taste buds clean, “leading to enhanced taste.”
How to choose a tongue scraper
Tongue scrapers come in various designs, and finding one that is comfortable, durable and effective is key. They often come with two handles or in a wand, and are made out of plastic or metal.
The dentists we spoke to expressed a preference for metal — either medical-grade steel or copper — over plastic, as they can be thoroughly sanitized.
“You want to make sure you use a properly designed tongue cleanser and avoid using ones that have sharp edges,” says Harris. “A properly designed tongue scraper will get deep into the crevices and fissures of the tongue to effectively remove particles.” The dentist also notes that you’ll want to look for one that “covers a lot of surface area with each pass.”
“The goal is to make one or two passes of the tongue and be done,” Harris continues. “More cleansing and less scraping.”
How to use a tongue scraper
Adding a tongue scraper to your routine only takes seconds. It can be used before or after you brush your teeth, and being gentle is important. You only need to use gentle pressure to be effective.
“Stand in front of the mirror, hold the tongue scraper and gently pull in one stroke towards the top of the tongue,” Lowenberg says. The dentist advises rinsing the scraper in between each pass, and to take up to 10 strokes, “until your tongue feels clean and no longer has a coating.”
If you are still experiencing bad breath throughout the day, the Abivardis suggest keeping a mouth spray on hand, like the Vvardis Sils Mouth Spray, which treats bad bacteria and protects against enamel decay.
How often should you scrape your tongue?
The dentists we spoke to recommended daily tongue scraping, preferably in the morning. “Though you would not think it, there is still oral activity while you sleep,” the Abivardis say. “This is the time when our saliva flow decreases. This allows for bacteria and dead cells, both naturally present in the mouth and those from remnants of food and drink consumed in the day, to settle on the surfaces of the mouth, and in particular, the tongue. Hence, the dreaded morning breath! Therefore, one of the best times to utilize a tongue scraper would be in the morning.” Although, it doesn’t hurt to do it at night, at the end of your usual oral care routine, too.