Consider the importance of the tongue. This awesome muscle is responsible for aiding the body in one of its most important actions: eating! Without a tongue, we’d be in pretty serious trouble. That being said, what do people really do to take care of their tongue? Mouthwash, tongue brushing, and trying to avoid scalding beverages are a few things I hear in my practice [and yes, I talk with all of my psychiatry and primary care patients about their oral health]. Including the tongue in regular teeth brushing is a normal practice. But, have you ever wondered if brushing your tongue is significant enough to eliminate the surface bacteria?
Oral health is very important to the overall health of the body. The mouth is the gateway to your body – a gateway that happens to be occupied by both helpful and dangerous bacteria. It is extremely important to exercise good oral health care; brushing, flossing and tongue scraping. Failing to take care of the mouth and teeth can result in oral infections, rotten teeth, and gum disease. Some research indicates that the inflammation and bacteria related to poor oral health care can also impact the body’s physical health. The connection between heart disease and oral health is well-known, with patients who have certain heart conditions needing to take antibiotics during oral procedures. This is not something to ignore. Tongue scraping is one part of good oral health.
Ayurvedic Medicine: The Origin of Tongue Scraping
Tongue scraping is derived from the Ayurvedic self-care ritual, Jihwa Prakshalana.
Ayurvedic medicine is one of the world’s oldest practices of medicine, originating in India over 3,000 years ago. This practice of medicine combines herbal compounds with special diets and unique health practices; Ayurveda remains an important part of medical practice in India. Tongue scraping has been historically used to remove toxins from the body via physically interrupting the environment for bacteria on the tongue. In the practice of Ayurveda, the scraping of the tongue is believed to promote oral health, immunity, and gastrointestinal health.
Why Use a Tongue Scraper?
Halitosis is the medical term for bad breath. Bad breath is not just a possible sign of poor oral health, but it may also indicate underlying problems in the body; worse, it keeps people away from us. There are many causes of bad breath but it is estimated that 85% of halitosis cases originate in the mouth. Of that 85% it is estimated that 50% are caused by tongue residues. That being said, one can conclude that the tongue is responsible for a lot of bad breath! Studies have suggested that specific compounds on the tongue, hydrogen sulfide, and mercaptans are common causes of halitosis.
Further research indicates that tongue scraping removes these compounds better than tongue brushing. Tongue scraping can also improve the functionality of your taste buds. Your taste buds work better when they’re not buried under bacteria and tongue debris. In addition, removing these unnecessary bacteria promotes oral health; improving your immunity and lessening your chances of oral infections.
The Tongue Scraper
Tongue scrapers can be purchased at many health food stores as well as pharmacies and drug stores around the country. The scraper itself looks like the end of a metal hanger, sometimes with two plastic ends. The metal piece is gently but firmly scraped across the tongue, from the back to the front. It is believed that the scraper removes excess food, bacteria, fungi, dead cells, and toxins from the tongue.
You may be thinking, “I brush my tongue, I’m good.” Well, in reality, the action of the tongue scraper loosens up the debris that is in the tongue’s deep crevices, making it easier to be removed with fluids, brushing, and regular oral hygiene. Brushing of the tongue is not as effective as the majority of the bacteria are living in the deep crevices. Upon scraping from the back to the front of the tongue, with gentle pressure, the instrument will gather debris. The user rinses the scraper and then scrapes again, around 5-10 times until the tongue feels clean and the scraper is coming back clean. For optimal oral health this practice should be completed on a daily basis.
Tongue scraping may not be indicated for individuals with known heart valve defects. Given the known relationship between oral flora and endocarditis, use of antibiotics before dental procedures is standard in patients with heart valve disorders. Research suggests that tongue scraping in a patient with an abnormal valve may have been associated with development of endocarditis. Given this, patients with heart valve abnormalities should speak to their health care provider prior to initiating a tongue scraping regimen.
Also, make sure to scrape gently but firmly. This process should not be painful, and it certainly shouldn’t cause bleeding or marks on the tongue.
For people in good health, tongue scraping is a very safe, useful practice to promote good oral health and help to reduce halitosis.