Most of us don’t give our tongues a second thought during our daily cleaning rituals, but this may be a big mistake.
Odds are you’ve noticed a deposit of white, yellow, or even brown or green particles on your tongue. “Your sense of taste, oral health, and even the freshness of your breath can all be negatively impacted by this buildup,” says Meera Watts, a registered yoga teacher with 200 hours of training (E-RYT 200) and the founder and CEO of Siddhi Yoga, a yoga, meditation, and Ayurvedic training school based in Singapore.
Removing this buildup through a daily Ayurvedic practice known as tongue scraping, or “jihwa prakshalana” in Sanskrit, may bring benefits, such as improved oral health, better digestion, and fresh breath. After brushing and flossing, simply glide a tongue scraper (or the edge of a spoon works) across the entire surface of your tongue a few times, starting at the back of the tongue and working toward the front.
Learn more below about how tongue scraping may benefit your overall health.
May Improve Oral Health
Your mouth is filled with microbes — about 700 species of bacteria and fungus, in fact, notes the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Some microbes are helpful, whereas others cause tooth decay, gum disease, and plaque buildup.
Brushing and flossing your teeth clears away harmful bacteria. But bad bacteria can build up on your tongue, too. “This buildup may be removed easily by scraping your tongue, which is impossible [to do] with a basic brushing routine,” Watts says.
For one study, researchers asked a group of adults with healthy gums to scrape their tongues until the tongue coating was removed entirely; meanwhile, another group did no tongue scraping. Both groups kept up with a standard oral hygiene routine. Scraping took place for three days, after which the researchers collected mouth samples from all participants to measure total bacteria, bacteria in the tongue coating, and dental plaque.
Researchers found that scraping, over this short period, lowered the amount of bacteria on the tongue, though it didn’t have any effect on dental plaque, and concluded that both tongue cleaning and tooth brushing could be done to reduce the amount of bacteria on the surface of the tongue and teeth, and thereby potentially improve gum health.
An earlier study in children, on the other hand, found that tongue scraping significantly reduced plaque levels after 10 and 21 days.
A study published in the February 2018 Journal of Periodontal Research found no bacteria changes in patients with gum disease after two weeks of tongue cleaning.
All the study samples were small (30 in the adult study, 45 in the child study, 18 in the final study) and short-term (three days, 21 days, and 14 days of tongue cleaning, respectively). Bigger, longer-lasting studies are needed to tell if tongue scraping can help keep your mouth healthy.
What we do know: “Flossing once a day and brushing for two minutes twice a day with fluoride-containing toothpaste will definitely reduce your risk of oral disease,” says Alice Boghosian, DDS, a dentist in private practice in Park Ridge, Illinois, and a spokesperson for the American Dental Association.
2. May Boost Your Sense of Taste
Scraping off the surface of your tongue means starting with a fresh palate, per the Cleveland Clinic. You might notice stronger flavor profiles the next time you sit down to eat.
To explore how tongue scraping affects taste sensation, the authors of an earlier small study had adults with healthy gums clean their tongues twice daily for two weeks. Researchers let participants choose between a plastic scraper and a toothbrush.
While tongue cleaning only led to minor reductions in tongue bacteria, the amount of tongue coating decreased significantly. What’s more, cleaning the tongue improved the ability to taste, particularly when it came to bitter tastes and salt. The scraper was more effective in taste improvements than the brush. This study included only 16 people, and more research is needed.
Tongue scraping may heighten your sense of taste, but it may come down to the individual, Dr. Boghosian says. “There’s no [strong] science behind it.”
3. May Freshen Breath
Bad-smelling breath is more than embarrassing — it can be a symptom of poor oral care. When food is allowed to collect on the tongue, teeth, and gums, it rots, causing an unpleasant odor and taste in the mouth, per Johns Hopkins Medicine.
Brushing and flossing regularly are nonnegotiable for fresh breath. But certain bacteria on the back of the tongue can interact with foods and produce smelly sulfur compounds, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. Scraping is a way to remove bacteria your toothbrush and floss can’t reach.
For a past study, 60 men with cavities and gum disease were asked to scrape their tongues twice a day for one week. Before they started the scraping routine, nearly 42 percent of the men reported bad breath. After one week, that number dropped to 30 percent.
Researchers also took saliva samples before and after the study period to measure amounts of bacteria that cause cavities. They found that one week of tongue scraping significantly decreased bacteria in the mouth.
Take these findings with a grain of salt. Not only was the study small, but the men weren’t supervised, so we can’t be sure if they followed through with instructions to scrape their tongues twice a day.
A past review and meta-analysis found that toothbrushing and tongue cleaning lowered indicators of halitosis (chronic bad breath) better than toothbrushing alone. This suggests that tongue cleaning may be a helpful addition to a regular oral care routine if you have bad breath.
4. May Massage the Internal Organs, According to Ayurveda
Traditionally, Ayurvedic medicine practitioners believe the tongue acts as a map of the internal organs. The front one-third of the tongue relates to the lungs, heart, chest, and neck; the central third represents the liver, spleen, stomach, and pancreas; and the back one-third relates to the small intestine and colon, according to the Ayurvedic Institute. There is no high-quality mainstream research to substantiate these beliefs at this time.
In Ayurveda, a coating on a particular area of the tongue suggests the presence of toxins (called “ama”) in the organ that corresponds to that area. For example, a coating in the middle of your tongue indicates toxins may be present in the stomach and small intestine, according to Vedic Health.
“When we use a tongue scraper as part of a daily Ayurvedic routine, you’re gently removing those toxins and simultaneously [indirectly] massaging the internal organs,” says Veena Haasl-Blilie, a certified Ayurvedic practitioner and the founder of Saumya Ayurveda, an Ayurvedic wellness company in Corrales and Jemez, New Mexico.
For example, scraping the back area of the tongue that corresponds with the colon stimulates peristalsis, the wave-like muscle contractions that move food through the digestive tract, according to the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health.
5. May Improve Digestion, According to Ayurveda
In Ayurvedic tradition, a coating on the tongue signals that your digestive system has not absorbed nutrients as well as it should. Scraping off this coating daily may help.
“The mouth is the gateway to digestion, and improving the overall hygiene of the mouth [may] improve digestion,” Haasl-Blilie says.
A study published in February 2018 in Complementary Therapies in Medicine suggests there may be some basis for this. After scraping their tongues every morning for four weeks, a group of healthy adults reported significant improvements in constipation, watery and foul-smelling stools, and fatigue.
The researchers postulated that tongue cleaning thins the tongue coating that covers the taste buds, which may improve sense of taste and satisfaction with meals. When taste and satisfaction go up, we eat only the amount of food necessary to feel full. This, authors say, prevents undigested food materials from accumulating in the body and interrupting digestion.
More research is needed to confirm the digestive benefits of tongue scraping.
The watching, interacting, and participation of any kind with anything on this page does not constitute or initiate a doctor-patient relationship with Dr. Farrah™. None of the statements here have been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The products of Dr. Farrah™ are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. The information being provided should only be considered for education and entertainment purposes only. If you feel that anything you see or hear may be of value to you on this page or on any other medium of any kind associated with, showing, or quoting anything relating to Dr. Farrah™ in any way at any time, you are encouraged to and agree to consult with a licensed healthcare professional in your area to discuss it. If you feel that you’re having a healthcare emergency, seek medical attention immediately. The views expressed here are simply either the views and opinions of Dr. Farrah™ or others appearing and are protected under the first amendment.
Dr. Farrah™ is a highly experienced Licensed Medical Doctor certified in evidence-based clinical nutrition, not some enthusiast, formulator, or medium promoting the wild and unrestrained use of nutrition products for health issues without clinical experience and scientific evidence of therapeutic benefit. Dr. Farrah™ has personally and keenly studied everything she recommends, and more importantly, she’s closely observed the reactions and results in a clinical setting countless times over the course of her career involving the treatment of over 150,000 patients.
Dr. Farrah™ promotes evidence-based natural approaches to health, which means integrating her individual scientific and clinical expertise with the best available external clinical evidence from systematic research. By individual clinical expertise, I refer to the proficiency and judgment that individual clinicians acquire through clinical experience and clinical practice.
Dr. Farrah™ does not make any representation or warranties with respect to the accuracy, applicability, fitness, or completeness of any multimedia content provided. Dr. Farrah™ does not warrant the performance, effectiveness, or applicability of any sites listed, linked, or referenced to, in, or by any multimedia content.
To be clear, the multimedia content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read or seen in any website, video, image, or media of any kind. Dr. Farrah™ hereby disclaims any and all liability to any party for any direct, indirect, implied, punitive, special, incidental, or other consequential damages arising directly or indirectly from any use of the content, which is provided as is, and without warranties.