May 28, 2023

Brushing and flossing the teeth is nonnegotiable for a healthy mouth. However, if you want to achieve next-level cleanliness, you may also need to tend to your tongue.
The ancient practice of tongue cleaning, better known as tongue scraping, is a common method for removing buildup that may impact your sense of taste, your oral health, and even the freshness of your breath.
Learn more about tongue scraping, its potential benefits, and how to get started.
According to an article, tongue scraping has been practiced for centuries in Europe, Africa, Arabia, India, and South America. However, its roots are generally thought to originate in the ayurvedic medicine practice of jihwa prakshalana in Sanskrit, according to the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) describes ayurveda as an ancient Indian medical system, based on writings, that relies on holistic and whole-person approaches to health.
Ayurvedic medicine remains one of India’s standard healthcare systems, per the NCCIH. But in the United States, ayurvedic practices like tongue scraping are still emerging in the wellness industry. In fact, the NCCIH estimates that only 240,000 American adults currently use ayurvedic medicine, and the center does not have numbers to show how many may be using tongue scraping in their daily oral care routines.
However, interest continues to grow. “Especially since COVID, when people are breaking down physically and mentally because of stress, people are seeking out ayurveda at a level that I haven’t seen before,” says Veena Haasl-Blilie, a certified ayurvedic practitioner and the founder of Saumya Ayurveda, an ayurvedic wellness company in Corrales and Jemez, New Mexico.
These days, U.S. adults are open to trying ancient practices like tongue scraping to potentially boost their health and wellness routines.
As the first stop in the digestive journey, the mouth gets exposed to bacteria from whatever you consume. This bacteria settles on and in between the teeth, gums, and of course, tongue.
You may see this bacteria by sticking out your tongue as you look into a mirror. It often appears as a white coating or white spots, but it can also appear yellow or brown. According to the Mayo Clinic, this coating develops when the fingerlike projections (papillae) on the surface of your tongue become enlarged. When this happens, debris, bacteria, and dead cells can get stuck between them.
The goal of tongue scraping is to remove harmful bacteria that inflames your gums and causes cavities and bad breath, per the Cleveland Clinic.
That said, ayurvedic practitioners explain tongue scraping in a slightly different way: “When you have a coating on your tongue, that shows that your digestive system didn’t fully assimilate nutrients as well as it could,” Haasl-Blilie says.
That coating may contain some toxins (called ama in ayurveda) that were formed as your body processed the foods ingested, explains the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health. According to ayurvedic tradition, scraping off that coating every day prevents those toxins from getting reabsorbed into your digestive tract, where they may weaken digestion and cause constipation, bloating, and other complaints, per Vedic Health.
However, it’s important to note that tongue scraping can’t entirely replace good oral hygiene habits. “The fundamentals of cleaning in between your teeth once a day, brushing twice a day for two minutes with a fluoride toothpaste, and seeing your dentist regularly are priceless,” says Alice Boghosian, DDS, a dentist in private practice in Park Ridge, Illinois, and spokesperson for the American Dental Association. “If you want to add in tongue scraping, that’s great, but it can’t take the place of these basics.”
Tongue scrapers come in many shapes, sizes, and materials.
The most common type is shaped like a horseshoe and made of stainless steel, copper, or plastic. There are also scrapers shaped like a toothbrush. If you don’t want to buy a tongue scraper, you may use the edge of a spoon to achieve the same potential results.
If you want to follow the ayurvedic tradition, opt for a horseshoe-shaped scraper made of copper. “Copper is said to have more antimicrobial properties than stainless steel, so that’s an additional benefit,” Haasl-Blilie says.
High-quality research on tongue scraping is lacking, but there are a few potential benefits.
Scraping the tongue may clear away unhealthy bacteria, helping your teeth and gums stay healthy, Haasl-Blilie says.
For example, a study revealed that adults who scraped their tongues every day for three days in addition to their standard oral hygiene routine lowered the amount of bacteria on their tongue, compared with those who didn't scrape their tongues. While scraping had no effect on dental plaque, this study provides some evidence that tongue scraping is effective at reducing total bacteria levels on the tongue. How this impacts oral health isn’t fully known.
Are you self-conscious about your breath? Getting rid of your tongue coating regularly may help.
A study found that tongue scraping twice daily for one week improved bad breath in a group of men with cavities and gum disease. One week of tongue scraping also decreased amounts of cavity-causing bacteria in the mouth.
Similarly, a review and meta-analysis revealed that adding tongue cleaning to a brushing routine significantly lowered indicators of halitosis (chronic bad breath) when compared with brushing the teeth alone.
Removing buildup from the surface of your tongue may boost your taste bud power, per the Cleveland Clinic.
In a study, adults with healthy gums cleaned their tongues twice daily for two weeks. Not only did cleaning the tongue significantly reduce the amount of tongue coating but it also improved taste. In particular, tongue cleaning boosted bitter sensations and the taste of salt. However, more research is needed to confirm this benefit.
According to ayurvedic teachings, different areas of the tongue correspond to various internal organs. When a coating appears on a particular area of the tongue, it could mean there are toxins in the organ that area represents, per Vedic Health.
When you scrape your tongue, you are removing toxins as well as triggering points on the tongue, Haasl-Blilie says. Scraping the area of the tongue that corresponds to the colon, for example, is like giving this organ an indirect massage, which can help stimulate the movement of food through the digestive tract, explains the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health. These are traditional ayurvedic concepts and not specifically supported by conventional medicine.
Caring for your mouth improves digestion, Haasl-Blilie says. And according to ayurvedic philosophy, scraping toxins off your tongue is key for preventing those toxins from wreaking havoc in the digestive tract.
There isn’t much research to support this idea. However, a study published in February 2018 in Complementary Therapies in Medicine found that four weeks of daily tongue scraping may have been associated with significant improvements in constipation, watery and foul-smelling stools, and fatigue among healthy adults.
“Although tongue scraping is typically a safe practice, it’s crucial to use a good scraper tool,” says Meera Watts, a yoga teacher and the founder and CEO of Siddhi Yoga, a yoga, meditation, and ayurvedic training school in Singapore. “Accidental cuts can result from using a scraper with an uneven or rough edge, which is why it’s crucial to always check your tool before using it.”
You can lower your risk of cuts by investing in a quality scraper. The Art of Living Retreat Center recommends avoiding ones made of plastic.
It’s also important to watch your pressure when scraping. “People hear the word ‘scraping’ and may think of scraping ice off their car windshield, so they make the mistake of getting too aggressive,” Haasl-Blilie says. But all it takes is a gentle gliding motion to remove that tongue coating. “You shouldn’t dig into your tongue and scrape it out,” she notes.
Finally, don’t scrape your tongue if you have mouth sores, cuts, or wounds.
Tongue scraping is believed to be safe when performed gently with a quality scraper. When added to a regular routine of brushing and flossing, tongue scraping may help you reduce harmful bacteria that can cause gum inflammation, cavities, and bad breath.
However, if you struggle to maintain a routine of brushing twice daily, flossing once daily, and visiting your dentist twice a year, you may want to reconsider tongue scraping. At least until you can establish a consistent oral care routine that follows these guidelines. “I have patients that will not floss their teeth. I certainly wouldn’t recommend that they add an additional step to their daily mouth hygiene routine,” Dr. Boghosian says.
In addition, people with mouth sores, cuts, or wounds should avoid using a tongue scraper.
It’s best to discuss with your dental team whether tongue scraping is right for you before adding this practice to your at-home oral care routine. Haasl-Blilie recommends these steps to her patients:
Haasl-Blilie recommends scraping your tongue in the morning only. If you scrape too often, you can aggravate the delicate tongue tissue, she explains.
Ayurvedic Institute
Founded in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in 1994, the Ayurvedic Institute is one of the leading ayurvedic schools in the United States. It offers a variety of ayurvedic education opportunities, including full-time programs, continuing education, and in-depth clinical training programs. On its website, you’ll find free educational resources like video lectures and articles about ayurvedic practices like tongue scraping.
Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health
A nonprofit educational organization, Kripalu provides online and in-person training on ayurveda, yoga, and integrative yoga therapy. Its website is packed with articles and resources to help you start an ayurvedic self-care practice like tongue scraping.
Vedic Health
Vedic is a nonprofit organization that offers group classes, counseling, yoga therapy, energy healing, and ayurvedic consultations. Check its website for articles about ayurvedic practices like tongue scraping.
The Art of Living Retreat Center
This nonprofit organization hosts ayurvedic wellness retreats, yoga teacher training, and ayurveda lifestyle consultations with an ayurvedic practitioner. Subscribe to its online newsletter and visit its blog for information about ayurveda.
Paavani Ayurveda
You’ll find tongue scrapers and a wide array of ayurvedic skin-care and wellness products through Paavani Ayurveda. This line of small-batch ayurvedic products is sourced from whole, organic ingredients and handcrafted in California. The company also offers virtual classes and ayurvedic consultations.
Kerala Ayurveda
Another online shop where you can find tongue scrapers, Kerala Ayurveda also offers ayurvedic beauty and wellness products for longevity, vision support, blood sugar balance, and more. Explore ayurvedic practices and routines through its blog, become a certified ayurvedic practitioner through Kerala Ayurveda Academy, or visit the Kerala Ayurveda Wellness Center for health consultations and bodywork.
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