The Whole-Body Benefits of Tongue Scraping
Tongue scraping can produce an unpleasant visual image if you’re unfamiliar with the practice. The thought of running a tiny, hard instrument along your tongue is enough to make some people gag.
You might be surprised to know that using a tongue scraper is one way to support oral hygiene and nourish digestive and immune function.
Besides, if you’re already brushing your tongue regularly, transitioning to a more refined tongue scraping method won’t feel that different.
But if this is all new, keep reading to learn about the history of tongue scraping, what the latest research says, and step-by-step instructions on how to minimize the gag reflex with a tongue scraper.
In this article
Do Tongue Scrapers Work?
Tongue scrapers work by removing the excess buildup of harmful bacteria strains from the top layer of your tongue. The mouth is the second-largest microbiome after the gut with over 700 species of bacteria.1
Healthwise, not all of these bacteria are necessarily “bad” in terms of having a clean vs. dirty tongue. The collection of bacteria, fungi, viruses, and protozoa that form the oral microbiome creates a delicate homeostatic balance that works to prevent diseases inside and outside of the mouth.
In other words, the mouth is an abundant source of bacteria, good and bad. Using a tongue scraper may be an effective way to control the overproduction of gram-positive bacteria2, which causes common oral health issues like white tongue, bad breath, cavities, and more.
Are They Safe?
Besides triggering the gag reflex, tongue scrapers pose little health risk. You can buy plastic, steel, or copper versions, but some people simply use a spoon from their kitchen drawer.
Applying too much pressure may cause an accidental cut, but in terms of major side effects, tongue scraping is a safe method of removing bacteria.
The Significance of Tongue Diagnostics in Eastern Medicine
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), using the appearance of the tongue as a diagnostic tool is a 3,000-year-old practice3. Practitioners see the tongue as a window into the health status of many internal organs, such as the stomach and spleen.
Following TCM theory, having a discolored tongue (any color besides pink) would be a sign of misaligned Qi. This energy deficiency, as it’s translated in Western medicine, may provide clues for the stage and progression of certain gastrointestinal disorders like gastritis and heartburn4.
If you’re not entirely convinced, keep reading to find out more about the benefits from the perspective of Western medicine.
Possible Health Benefits
According to a 20205 news release from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), researchers now have access to a novel technique involving tongue scraping and DNA-sequencing to understand how bacteria communities, called biofilm, grow and organize on the tongue.
Understanding the nitty-gritty of oral bacteria formation provides a roadmap for the previously studied benefits of tongue scraping:
- Clears toxins: When unhealthy oral bacteria and their resulting toxins spread to different parts of the body, the oral biofilm can play a role in infection and inflammation-related conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, IBD, respiratory issues, neurodegenerative and heart diseases6. A tongue scraper, alongside healthy lifestyle choices, is a preventive measure to remove toxins that could transfer to other body parts and potentially lead to serious health issues.
- Enhances taste: Research from the early 2000s7 suggests that tongue scrapers improve the taste of bitter, sweet, salty, and sour foods. More recently, however, a 2018 study8 revealed that salt intensity was more noticeable after removing the white coating on the tongue via scraping. This could lead to healthier diet decisions that involve less salt!
- Promotes digestive health: Frontiers published promising research in 20219 that sheds light on the oral-gut-brain axis. Researchers speculate that tongue cells play a role in metabolism and nitric oxide cycling (for gut transport and relaxation), establishing a communication network between the mouth, brain, and gut via the vagus nerve10.
- Protects the immune system: While there are still unknowns about the role of the immune system in shaping the oral microbiome, researchers do know that a link exists between diseases that cause impaired immune function and secondary oral symptoms11. Scraping the tongue, then, may be an added defense for your immune system to prevent harmful toxins from re-entering your body.
- Support healthy oral hygiene: Finally, tongue scraping can prevent bad breath12 and reduce plaque buildup. In a 2013 single-blind study13, children who brushed their teeth and scraped their tongues two times a day for 3 weeks had less plaque compared to those who brushed but didn’t do a tongue scrape.
How To Scrape Your Tongue
As numerous studies point out, the brush and scrape method is the best way to promote oral health14. Before or after your brush your teeth, follow these steps to remove lingering tongue bacteria:
- Open your mouth, then place the rounded end against the middle of your tongue.
- Take a deep breath to relax the gag reflex, apply a little pressure, then pull the scraper forward.
- Wipe the scraper with a cloth after each scrape. For best results, go from the back of your mouth to the tip of your tongue.
- Repeat until all areas of the tongue have been cleaned.
Cleaning and Maintenance
It’s important to wash off your tongue scraper after each use to clear off bacteria and saliva. Run it under warm water, rinse it with mouthwash, even boil it—all of these cleaning methods can sanitize and extend the life of your tongue scraper.
Another natural way to support your oral-gut-brain axis is through plant supplements. Adaptogenic herbs and CBD may help regulate elevated cortisol levels, which researchers know contribute to stress-induced digestive issues and gut microbiome imbalances.15
A supplement made with multiple stress-relieving herbs, like Dream+ and Purpose+, not only tastes good (especially after a tongue scrape) but has the potential to regulate a sensitive digestive system.
Evidence from Traditional Chinese Medicine and Western research suggests that tongue scraping may be good for improved oral hygiene, digestion, and immune function.
This works best when combined with other lifestyle choices (such as avoiding cigarettes and refined sugar), so you give your tongue and teeth the best fighting chance against disease. If you’re not sure how healthy your oral microbiome is, schedule an appointment with a dentist you trust to rule out possible oral conditions.