Should We All Be Scraping Our Tongues Now?

Photographed by Rockie Nolan.
If you claim you don't peek in people's medicine cabinets during house parties, I think you're lying. Often a voyeuristic glance into people's self-care routines can give you a sense of the latest health and skin care trends out there, plus it gives you some fun dinner party conversation topics. As a cabinet-creeper myself, one tool that I keep seeing over and over in people's bathrooms is the tongue scraper.
Tongue scrapers are small dental tools that resemble spoons or shedding blades. Tongue scraping is technically not a new thing, and has been practiced for centuries in Europe and Africa. Traditional scrapers were made of wood, metal, ivory, and whalebone, though nowadays, you can get cheap tongue scrapers made out of plastic or copper on Amazon. (Using a toothbrush to brush your tongue also works, according to the American Dental Association (ADA).)
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These simple tools are designed to remove bacteria on your tongue that's contributes to bad breath, explains Mahvish Ahmed, DDS, a dentist at Smile Design Manhattan in New York City. "Majority of bacteria in the mouth lives on your tongue and most of us tend to neglect that area, especially towards the back of the tongue," she says. In addition to helping your mouth feel fresher, scraping your tongue may also remove pathogens that are associated with gum and cardiovascular diseases, as well as dental decay, she says. "So, I'm a huge fan," she says.
While tongue scraping might seem like all the rage right now, it's important to point out that it's just one step you can take for better oral hygiene. "Even though tongue scraping does in fact remove bacteria from the tongue, just like with plaque on your teeth, it will build back up if not done regularly," Dr. Ahmed says. And, according to the ADA, there's no evidence that using a tongue scraper will prevent bad breath or halitosis, which is chronic bad breath. So, although it may provide some temporary relief or freshness, tongue scraping is not a miracle cure, and it definitely can't replace daily brushing.
If you're in need of different ways to improve your breath or oral hygiene, adding tongue scraping once a day might be a quick and effective method to add to your repertoire, Dr. Ahmed says. However, if you’re experiencing a thick white coating on your tongue, it could also be a sign of other health concerns, she says. "Be sure to not to miss regular cleanings and checkups with your dentist," she says. Oh, and if you are curious about tongue scraping, definitely buy your own device instead of stealing your friend's out of their cabinet.
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