If you ask us, few things are more tedious than dental care. While taking off your makeup and slathering on moisturizer (and maybe even a face mask) can feel luxurious and relaxing after a long day, flossing and brushing are more like chores. Just get them done as quickly as possible so you don’t end up with a mouth full of cavities at your next visit, right?
Recently, tongue scraping has made its way to the forefront of the dental care conversation, which isn’t exactly the most welcome news. On top of the recommendation to floss once a day and brush twice—for a full two minutes with an electric toothbrush, by the way—you apparently have to spend another minute running a metal instrument up and down your tongue. But is tongue scraping a fad, or is it actually important? For anyone who’s ever wanted to cut down on their daily dental routine, here’s what you need to know.
Yes, tongue scraping is just as important for overall oral health as flossing and brushing.
Jacqueline Dikansky, a pediatric dentist at iSmileKids, puts it simply: “Brushing is most important for the teeth, flossing is most important for the gums, and scraping the tongue is most important for the tongue, but they all contribute to overall oral health, and I don’t think it’s fair to prioritize one over the other.”
In other words, skipping out on any of these steps would be doing a disservice to one integral part of your oral health, so it’s pretty damn important to do all three. “Studies show that the top of your tongue is one of the main hosts for bacteria in your mouth,” Dikansky says. “Mechanical tongue scraping reduces the number of bacteria present on your tongue by 50%!”
We know what you’re thinking: Won’t brushing the tongue a few times accomplish the same goal? Dikansky says no. “One study showed that tongue scraping removes significantly more bacteria than tongue brushing, so go ahead and invest in a scraper! And note that some of the bacteria that colonize on the tongue are also a key player for the development of cavities. Studies show that not brushing the tongue for one week leads to a tenfold increase in the counts of those specific bacteria.”
Need further convincing? While popping a stick of sugar-free gum might temporarily improve your breath, the main way to prevent halitosis (the “official” word for bad breath) long-term is to tongue scrape. “70% of bad breath comes from the back of the tongue,” says Irina Sinensky, a dentist at Dental House. “The tongue naturally has a pretty ‘groovy’ surface texture where food particles and bacteria can get trapped. Using a tongue scraper removes that slimy film and keeps your breath so fresh and so clean.”
Tongue scraping is important for overall health, too.
Tongue scraping won’t just improve your breath and help you avoid getting a talking to from your dentist: It’s pretty great for your general health, too, because tongue scraping reduces the bacterial load in the mouth, which affects the body’s microbiome.
“The bacteria in our mouths can easily access other parts of our body through our bloodstream,” Dikansky explains. “Just to give a few examples, bacteria in the mouth can lead to heart infections in people with certain cardiac conditions and can be found in the lungs of cystic fibrosis patients. By decreasing the bacterial load in the mouth and optimizing the oral microbiome, you're actually caring for the rest of the body behind that beautiful smile.”
Tongue scraping 101
The good news about tongue scraping is that you only need to do it once a day, for one minute. Tongue scraping can activate the gag reflex (you have to get pretty far back there!), so it’s up to you if you want to do it in the morning or at night—if you’re less likely to gag before you’ve eaten anything, for example, a morning tongue scraping session is probably the way to go.
James L. Ratcliff, Ph.D. says you should invest in a stainless steel, copper, silver or plastic tongue scraper, which is available at your local drugstore or on Amazon. Tongue scraping should be done after flossing and brushing, and ahead of a thorough rinse, with mouthwash or not.
“You will find that between 7 and 14 strokes of the scraper will leave your tongue feeling healthy,” he says. “Rinse the scraper as needed. If your tongue is sore from scraping, lighten up! You are probably pressing too hard.”
If you were hoping for permission to ditch the tongue scraper, it seems you’re out of luck—it’s not only important to healthy gums, cavity prevention, and fresh-smelling breath, but your overall health. So invest in a good scraper and get going.