The tongue is one of the most unique parts of our mouth that functions in swallowing and speaking. When it comes to maintaining good oral hygiene, our primary focus always goes on the teeth and gums. However, it is essential to know that the tongue attracts the majority of the plaque and bacteria in the mouth. This is because of the papillary projections that trap the food debris and plaque and allow them to settle on the surface of the tongue.
Failure to clean the tongue increases the plaque buildup on the tongue surface, which is often reflected as a white coating. Routine tongue cleaning removes the unknown bacteria and plaque from the tongue surface and helps to get rid of bad breath. Tongue scrapers are specially designed oral health care tool which efficiently scrapes the plaque and provides a clean surface of the tongue.
Today’s article will give you an insight into the importance of tongue cleaning and the use of tongue scraper in providing a clean oral environment.
What are tongue scrapers?
The tongue has a large surface area that usually is coated by microorganism and oral debris like food, saliva, and dead epithelial cells. A tongue scraper is an oral hygiene tool which is specially designed to clean the white coating on the surface of the tongue. They usually have a round curve and resemble an inverted spoon.
Most of the tongue scrapers are made from plastic. However, copper and stainless-steel tongue scrapers are also famous in the market. Tongue scrapers as compared to a toothbrush efficiently removes the bacteria and reduces the production of volatile sulfur compounds on the tongue surface. These volatile sulfur compounds are responsible for bad breath. (2)
A note on the history of tongue scrapers
Tongue cleaning has been an old age practice that was first documented under the Ayurveda – a traditional Indian Medicine Branch. The method of tongue cleaning was started as a step to remove the toxic debris to know as Ama from the surface of the tongue. In the ancient days, tongue cleaners were typically made from copper, silver, gold, tin, and brass.
However, tongue cleaners have been modernized by using plastic as the most common material of choice. In some countries like Africa, Arabia, South America, and Europe, tongue cleaners are made from thin, flexible wood sections, metals, celluloid, whalebone, ivory and tortoise-shell. As compared to many eastern and oriental cultures, western civilization does not emphasize much on tongue cleaning.
What is the importance of tongue scrapping?
While brushing your teeth and gums might seem like the most crucial task to maintain good oral hygiene, it is essential to pay attention to your tongue as well. Our tongue has a rough surface made by papillary projections that easily trap the germs and food debris.
Failure to clean the tongue properly allows the bacteria to travel from the surface of the tongue to the tooth surface and gum line. A clinical research study revealed that cleaning the tongue regularly led to a significant decline in the percentage of bacteria in the mouth. (1)
Additionally, many oral health problems occur because of the bacteria present on the tongue surface. Some of the issues associated with a bacteria coated tongue include –
- Halitosis or bad breath – scientists have revealed that the bacteria on the surface of the tongue accounts for 80-90% of all cases of halitosis. The remaining 20% bacteria come as a contribution from the tooth surface an gum line.
- Taste alteration
- Increased risk of gum disease and tooth decay
- Increased risk of tongue ulcers or bacterial infections in the mouth
Tongue cleaning is, therefore, essential to maintain a healthy mouth. It takes a minute to scrape the surface of the tongue. Moreover, it helps to maintain a harmony between all the oral tissues in the mouth.
What are the benefits of tongue scrapping?
Some of the top benefits of using tongue cleaning devices are listed below –
- Removes bacteria from the tooth surface – streptococci mutans is a common disease-causing bacteria in the mouth. Studies have shown that tongue scraping – twice a day for a week can significantly reduce the growth of streptococci in the mouth. Moreover, it reduces the incidence of tooth decay and gum disease.
- Reduces the problem of halitosis/bad breath – one of the main advantages of tongue scraping is the reduction in bad breath. Typically, the tongue serves as a hiding place for the food debris and bacteria in the mouth. Failure to clean the tongue surface often allows the residing bacteria to produce volatile sulfur-containing compounds. (4)
Their foul smell characterizes these volatile sulfur products. Regular tongue scraping removes such bacteria and eliminates the production of foul-smelling compounds in the mouth which automatically improves bad breath.
- Improves the taste senses in the mouth – often the white coating that forms on the surface of the tongue covers the taste buds and alters the sense of taste in the mouth. A clear sign of clean mouth is to have the ability to taste every flavor in the mouth. Moreover, the person can easily distinguish between bitter, salty, sweet, and sour sensations.
- Provides a clean tongue surface that looks healthy – the presence of a white coating on the surface of the tongue is usually not appealing to look at. Regular tongue cleaning removes the dirty layer and provides an excellent clean surface of the tongue. (5)
- Impact on overall health – it is evident that our mouth is portal to the health of our body. Removing bacteria from the mouth not only reduces tooth decay, cavities, and gum disease, but it improves the overall health of the body.
Typically tongue cleaners can be categorized into two types, namely, tongue brushes and tongue scrapers.
Tongue brushes effectively loosen the food debris and particles from the surface of the tongue. Moreover, it removes the bacteria that may have lodged or gotten stuck between the papillary projections and taste buds.
These brushes are usually made up of ultra-soft micro bristles which can reach the crevices in the tongue. Often the use of tongue brushes may require moistening of the tongue for efficient removal. Some of the benefits of tongue brushes include the following –
- People of any age can use it
- The soft and moist bristles do not damage the surface of the tongue
- It is easy to brush the surface of the tongue
- Tongue brushes have the ability to clean the area under the tongue as well
- Maintenance and storage of tongue brushes is straightforward and does not require much work
Tongue scrapers as mentioned earlier are the classic tongue cleaning devices. These are made from a variety of materials like stainless steel, plastic, copper, and tin. The best part about tongue scrapers is that it is molded to adapt to the shape of the tongue. Some of the advantages of tongue scrapers are listed below –
- The tongue scrapers made from stainless-steel or any other toxic-free metal lasts for a long time
- Along with the durability, these tongue scrapers are tough
- They do not rust
- They can adapt to nay tongue surface easily
- It requires simple strokes to scrape the surface of the tongue
How should you use a tongue scraper?
Proper tongue scrapping technique can be performed by following the steps given below –
- The first step is to stand in front of a mirror so that you can see your tongue on opening the mouth.
- Stick your tongue out and gently place the rounded end of the tongue scraper at the back of the tongue.
- If you experience a gag reflex, try to position the tongue scraper in the middle of the tongue.
- Now gently scrape the tongue surface by moving the tongue scraper forward towards the tip of the tongue.
- After one stroke, lift the tongue scraper and position it back again to repeat the scraping motion. (3)
- Never push the tongue scrapper back as it may scrape the bacteria and debris towards the throat.
- After every tongue scrapping stroke, remove the debris from the tongue scraper by using a washcloth or a tissue.
- Usually, one to two scrapping strokes is sufficient to clean the tongue.
- Always rinse the tongue scraper with warm water. You can also use soap to clean it thoroughly. Dry the tongue scraper and store it in a clean space.
Tongue scraping can be performed several times in a day as per the person’s requirement. It usually takes less than two minutes to clean the tongue properly.
How should you use a tongue cleaning brush?
The tongue is the most sensitive part of our mouth. Therefore, it is essential always to be gentle while cleaning the surface of the tongue using a brush. Do not press hard on the tongue surface.
- Gentle rub the back middle and tip of the tongue using the brush. Use a round or circular motion to dislodge the food debris, bacteria, and dead epithelial cells.
- The end of a tongue brush usually consists of a scraper. Use the tool to remove the bacteria and debris that have been dislodged by the tongue brush.
- Always clean the brush and the scraper after every stroke by rinsing it under warm water.
- For additional benefits, you can use a small dollop of Toothpaste also helps to provide a long-lasting minty breath.
- After brushing the entire surface of the tongue, clean the tongue brush under warm water and allow it to air dry. Store it in a clean place.
What are the disadvantages of tongue scrapping?
Although there are several advantages related to tongue cleaning, it is essential to know about certain concerns that may be associated with tongue cleaning.
- One of the prime concerns for tongue cleaning is stimulation of gag reflex. Often this could lead to severe vomiting. In order to avoid such incidents, leave the back end of the tongue. Start tongue scraping from the middle portion of the tongue. As you get accustomed to cleaning the tongue, slowly involve the following areas until you feel comfortable.
- Sometimes, vigorous use of tongue scraper or tongue brush can lead to cuts or lacerations on the tongue surface. Always check of your tongue cleaning device has an uneven surface. Replace it if necessary.
When should you consult a dentist?
Some tongue lesions may seem alarming and should be consulted immediately with a dentist or a doctor. Some of the potential tongue lesions that you must be aware of includes –
- Presence of white patches like leukoplakia, oral lichen planus or cancerous lesions
- Red spots may indicate the development of geographic tongue
- Looks for loss pf papilla characterized as the smooth bald surface of the tongue
- Traumatic wounds
- Development of sores or lumps in the mouth
- Severe burns
Take away message
Tongue cleaning can have a significant positive change in your life. Not only it helps to keep your mouth clean and healthy, but it also maintains your overall health and well-being. There are several varieties of tongue scrapers and tongue brushes that you can choose to clean your tongue efficiently. Whichever device you want, it is essential to keep up with the practice of regular tongue cleaning.
Some of the benefits of tongue cleaning include reduction of bad breath, tooth decay, gum disease, and improvement of the tongue appearance. Always follow the proper technique of tongue cleaning so as to avoid unnecessary cuts or lacerations that may cause discomfort.
Keep a check on any unusual changes that may occur on the surface of the tongue. If you experience any pain or burning sensation, consult the dentist immediately.