Are Tongue Scrapers Good for You?
“Are tongue scrapers actually good for you?“ Ancient techniques to naturally support oral hygiene are resurfacing and becoming more widespread. Tongue scraping (or tongue cleaning) is one of these ancient practices, revered for its ability to eliminate toxins, massage and activate our internal organs, and stimulate our digestive capacity.
In Ayurveda, the tongue is a gateway for self-awareness. It is a critical component of an Ayurvedic routine, with benefits that go well beyond oral health. Scraping daily is believed to remove the accumulation of toxins caused by imbalances in our physical and emotional bodies. Western medicine is only beginning to make these connections.
Oral health is a top priority for many people, especially when it comes to eliminating oral malodour (or halitosis). Most cases of bad breath or halitosis are caused by naturally occurring bacteria inside our mouths, particularly those that dwell deep in the back of the tongue.
This area of the tongue is a nurturing ground for anaerobic bacteria, which in excess, not only cause bad breath but could also contribute to tooth decay, gum ailments and plaque build-up. But not all bacteria on the tongue are harmful. Bacteria are a necessary part of our natural flora, and when they are in balance, they play a key role in our overall health and wellbeing.
In Ayurveda (as well as in Traditional Chinese Medicine), one of the best ways for evaluating this balance and the overall state of your health is by inspecting your tongue. According to an ancient Ayurvedic text called the Charaka Samhita, scraping the tongue (which is notably different than simply brushing your tongue) is considered an effective and powerful way of removing toxic debris, or ama, from our physiology:
Tongue scrapers should be curved without a sharp edge and be made of gold, silver, copper, tin or brass. The impurities, deposited at the root of the tongue obstruct inhalation, cause halitosis. The tongue, therefore, should be scraped regularly.
If left untreated, these toxins can get reabsorbed by the body and lead to a weakened immune system, respiratory issues, and digestive problems. Proper digestion is the cornerstone of health in Ayurveda and should be taken seriously, especially because our intake of food serves to nourish our tissues, organs, and ultimately, our state of consciousness. By scraping the tongue, we are not only removing harmful toxins from its surface, but helping to ensure that they are not reabsorbed by our bodies to weaken our digestive processes.
The tongue is also indicative of the health of our other internal organs. According to Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine, different parts of the tongue reflect the health of the heart, lungs, stomach, liver, spleen, kidneys and intestines. These ancient practices believe that these organs must mutually support each other and that – in order to achieve optimal health – they must also be in balance. Luckily we don’t have to look far to know exactly where our imbalances or toxins are being held. Our tongues are literally windows into the state of our bodies.
THE SECRETS OF THE TONGUE
From an Ayurvedic perspective, the oral cavity is considered to be one of the main passages between our bodies and the environment. Our bodies are constantly exposed to toxins from our food and environment, where even toxic emotions or thought patterns can lead to toxicity. When they are not properly eliminated, these toxins accumulate in our bodies and compromise our wellbeing. Luckily Ayurveda offers useful tools for cleansing our bodies of these toxins. Assessing our tongue is one of them.
The tongue holds many clues about our digestive health. It is the mirror to all the organs of the body – reflecting the condition of our overall health and guiding us to areas that are imbalanced and need further attention. The colour, texture, shape and coating of the tongue are all indicative of the overall health of the inner lining of our digestive tract, which governs the delivery of nutrients, the removal of digested toxins, and the beginning of the lymphatic and immune system.
There are several key signs to look for when examining your tongue. Although tongues may vary depending on our main constitution (vata, pitta or kapha), a healthy tongue is generally pink, not too wet or too dry, and without any cracks. On the other hand, when our intestines become inflamed, they produce excess mucus, inhibiting their ability to properly detox waste and absorb nutrients. In this case, the tongue turns red, becomes overly wet, and has a heavy white coating. If the intestines are too dry as a result of stress or dehydration, the tongue becomes dry, parched and pale or cracked.
How’s the health of your tongue? Go ahead – take a peek!
THE BENEFITS OF TONGUE SCRAPERS
The practice of tongue scraping (or tongue cleaning) is not new. It dates back to Eastern civilizations in the 15th century, but it became noticeably more widespread in the 20th century. Even more recently, the benefits of this ancient practice are becoming more well-known as the secrets of the tongue are being uncovered. This simple practice, of scraping your tongue before brushing your teeth, has been proven to:
- Eliminate unwanted bacteria in the mouth (such as Mutans streptococci and Lactobacilli bacteria) that can negatively impact gum, teeth and oral health.
- Remove volatile sulfur compounds (VSC), which are essentially by-products of the mouth linked to bad breath.
- Increase taste reception to enhance the sense of taste.
HOW TO USE TONGUE SCRAPERS
This Ayurvedic daily routine for maintaining oral health should be done on a regular basis, in the morning upon rising, and on an empty stomach.
- Use a U-shaped tongue scraper on a relaxed tongue, gently reaching to the back of the tongue and scraping from back to front.
- Repeat 5-10x, reaching as far back as possible and rinsing the scraper with every pass.
- Brush and floss teeth as usual (with non-fluoride toothpaste and floss).
- Wash the tongue scraper with warm water and soap, dry, and store in a dry place.
- For optimal benefits, follow these steps with oil pulling (post coming soon).
The entire process usually takes less than two minutes. Repeat as needed throughout the day.
THE SIDE EFFECTS OF USING TONGUE SCRAPERS
There are literally no negative side effects to using tongue scrapers, but perhaps one of the most common concerns is stimulating the gag reflex. You can avoid this completely by refraining from placing scraper too far back on your tongue. If you are a beginner to scraping, you may find it helpful to scrape from the middle of your tongue to the tip. You can gradually move farther back as you get used to the sensation.
Another concern is accidentally cutting the surface of your tongue with the scraper, but that has never been an issue for me. Just be mindful of how much pressure you’re applying. You should be relatively gentle, but also firm enough to scrape off the bacteria. There’s no reason to be concerned about cutting yourself, especially if you have a good quality tongue scraper. Just start soft and gradually increase the pressure.
TONGUE SCRAPING TOOLS FOR SALE
Tongue scrapers are very affordable and come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Buying one will largely going to come down to individual preference, but there are a couple of things to consider.
Copper has been used for centuries as a bacteria-resistant metal. In the traditional Ayurvedic practice, the removal of toxins on the tongue, or ama, is most effective when a scraper is made of gold, silver, or copper. New studies are also confirming the benefits of copper for oral health. Because our mouths host both good and bad bacteria, copper becomes particularly powerful because it is only toxic to the bad bacteria, while also supplying the mouth with important enzymes. Because of these hygienic properties, I always use a scraper made of 100% copper as part of my daily oral hygiene routine.