Tongue scraping for oral & digestive health
Updated: Nov 18, 2022
The first time I tried scraping my tongue, I was pretty surprised if not slightly grossed out by the thick layer of gunk that came off with the first scrape. I had no idea that there was so much build-up on my tongue! Since then, I have made it a point to scrape my tongue first thing in the morning, and it has become one of my daily habits.
Although not as commonly practiced in the States, tongue scraping has been around for millennia and is a time-tested Ayurvedic daily self-care practice with many benefits. The Charaka Samhita, the oldest surviving authoritative Ayurvedic text includes tongue scraping as one of the daily procedures for maintaining good health (Sanskrit: dinacharya), mentioning that a good tongue scraper should be made of gold, copper, tin, or brass, and that the tongue should be properly scraped to remove impurities (ama) that accumulate on the surface (1). These days, stainless steel also provides us with an affordable and safe option (although Dr. Douillard of Lifespa makes a pretty strong case for copper scrapers because of their antiseptic qualities!) (2). There are many good reasons for us to make tongue scraping a daily practice.
Effective in reducing bad breath vs. with tooth-brushing alone
Studies have shown that scraping your tongue daily can help reduce bad breath. Most bad breath is said to originate in the mouth, with a significant percentage caused by tongue residue. One study comparing tongue scraping with brushing showed that tongue scraping was significantly more effective than brushing the tongue in reducing the volatile sulfur compounds that cause bad breath (3). It has also been shown that those who practice tongue scraping along with daily tooth brushing generally have better breath and also less tongue coating than those who just brush (4). While there are certainly other sources of bad breath, starting a daily tongue scraping practice certainly wouldn't hurt if you are looking to keep your mouth fresher each day!
Serves as an indicator of our digestive health
From an Ayurvedic perspective, it is important to pay attention to the condition of the tongue. Not only is it the most visible part of the digestive tract, but it can also tell us a lot about what is going on inside of the body. The presence of a thick coating can indicate build-up of metabolic waste and poorly digested food in the body. If you consistently find yourself scraping off a thick, dark coating each morning, your body is telling you something is off with your digestive fire (agni). A healthy tongue is evenly pink, with no coating, swelling or discoloration.
Try it out for yourself!
Tongue scraping is best done daily first thing in the morning before brushing. Take the tongue scraper and place the rounded edge portion of the scraper near the back of your tongue, press down firmly and run it down the length of your tongue (if you're brave enough and curious, you can touch the residue to see just how thick it is, but make sure to wash your hands thoroughly after!). Rinse off the residue. Repeat the scraping about two more times until the tongue is relatively clear. Then proceed wish brushing your teeth and the rest of your morning routine.
As this becomes a habit, you may start to notice having a stickier or thicker tongue coating on the mornings after nights that you have had a heavy meal or late snack. Becoming aware of how our eating habits affect our digestion is key when it comes to taking control of our own health.
Do you scrape your tongue regularly? What kind of benefits has it brought you?
Charaka Samhita. Sutrasthana. Ch 5. Verse 71-75