When it comes to good hygiene, we all know to brush our teeth. But, have you ever thought about the amount of germs that collect on your tongue? Much like a paint scraper takes old residue off of a wall, scraping your tongue will help remove oral bacteria that live in hard-to-reach places.

“Everyone should at the very least be brushing their tongue on a daily basis,” said Cherri Kading, R.D.H., M.S., director of clinical operations at the Texas A&M University Baylor College of Dentistry. “I would advise implementing tongue scraping to your morning and nightly routine to aid in overall mouth cleanliness and to reduce the amount of bacteria on the tongue.”

A tongue scraper is a device made from plastic or metal with a curved, clean edge. Its purpose is to remove bacteria, food debris and fungi from the surface of the tongue. Removing this bacteria can help improve taste, slow the growth of plaque and keep the coating on your tongue at bay.

Have you ever woken up with a tongue that feels thick and gunky? As we sleep, bacteria begins to populate the tongue. Dry mouth is the leading cause of this thick, white coating but other conditions may cause it.

“Dry mouth is a side effect of certain medications, and other immune conditions can weaken the body’s ability to ward off bacteria–this, too will cause an overgrowth of organisms in the mouth,” Kading said.

While brushing your teeth and tongue will oust the majority of oral bacteria from their hiding places, studies have shown a scraper will actually remove more bacteria than a regular toothbrush.

“A good amount of bacteria call the tongue their home, and sometimes brushing may not be enough to rid your mouth of these unwelcome visitors,” Kading said. “We clean our mouths daily to prevent oral infections like cavities and gum disease. Tongue scraping is another tool we can add to our arsenal to protect against these infections. It’s especially beneficial to people who experience fungus or an overgrowth of candida on their tongue.”

Our tongue is covered with hair-like structures called papillae, which aid in our sense of taste. So, it is reasonable to believe if these papillae are covered with a thick coating of plaque, taste may be decreased. However, this has not been extensively studied.

“One research study did show an increase in taste with geriatric patients who had a thick layer of plaque on their tongue,” Kading said. “Once the plaque was removed, taste improved.”

According to Kading, the best way to use a scraper is to stick out your tongue, and place the scraper as far back on the tongue as possible. Then gently pull the scraper forward three to four times and apply light pressure. “It’s important that you don’t press too hard on the scraper and damage the tiny papillae on your tongue,” she said.

Scraping your tongue can help quell the growing bacteria population in your mouth and prevent certain oral infections. “Bacteria is the root cause for many things like tooth decay, periodontal disease and halitosis,” Kading said. “By eliminating bacteria on a regular basis, the risk for developing these conditions is often lowered.”

— Lauren Thompson

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