If done correctly, it's a harmless technique — but using too much pressure or the wrong tool can have some side effects.
If done correctly, it’s a harmless technique — but using too much pressure or the wrong tool can have some side effects.

While there isn’t much research on the topic, tongue scraping is always a good inclusion in your oral hygiene routine. Frequent scraping may make you less prone to cavities and bad breath and improve your sense of taste. If done correctly, it’s a harmless technique — but using too much pressure or the wrong tool can have some side effects. Here’s what you need to know.

What is tongue scraping?

Tongue scraping is a technique that removes tongue residue such as bacteria, debris, and dead cells that build up over time. It’s usually performed with a tongue scraper — a plastic or metal device that has a curved edge that doesn’t hurt the tongue.

While there isn’t strong evidence supporting tongue scraping as a necessary step in your routine,  it’s a good inclusion for your oral health. Tongue scraping shouldn’t take you more than a minute, so you can do it every time you brush your teeth.

How do I scrape correctly?

The first step to scraping correctly is picking the right tool. There are dozens of options, ranging from plastic scrapers to copper ones. Each has its benefits, but whichever you choose should be enough. However, keep in mind that plastic ones are usually smaller, so you might need to run several strokes to cover your whole tongue.

Once you have your scraper, stand in front of a mirror, stick out your tongue, and place the scraper as far back on the language as you can. Remember that it shouldn’t make you gag, so don’t force it back. Then, pull the device forward, applying light pressure to scrape the debris off.

Ideally, you should do this three or four times each time you scrape your tongue. If you find that nothing comes off your tongue, try gently increasing the pressure. Yet, make sure not to push down hard enough to hurt your tongue.

How often should I scrape?

Try to scrape your tongue at least twice a day. However, you can do it anytime you need to get rid of an unpleasant feeling in your mouth. For example, you can scrape when you’re away from your home after eating foods with large amounts of garlic or spice.

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What are the benefits of scraping your tongue?

There isn’t much research regarding tongue scraping, and studies can be conflicting — some even claim that tongue scraping doesn’t do anything beneficial. Still, some experts point to important benefits: fewer cavities, more sensitive taste buds, fresher breath, and overall oral health. 

Bad breath

It’s known that residual food particles and bacteria are one of the most common causes of bad breath. While flossing and brushing take care of most of this debris, scraping can be a great way of making sure that none remains on your tongue.

Taste buds

Tongue scraping can remove residue from your papillae — the tiny hair-like structures that cover your tongue that are key to sensing taste. This residue, commonly known as plaque, can interfere with your ability to enjoy foods. After removing it consistently for a few weeks, you may feel a heightened sense of taste.

Cavities

Caries, also known as cavities, are caused by bacteria inside the mouth that release acids, damaging the teeth. By scraping your tongue, you can reduce the number of bacteria in your mouth while also getting rid of some of the residues they feed on.

Appearance

A thick white buildup can sometimes cover an unscraped tongue. This is a sign of dehydration and can lead to an unpleasant taste and breath. Tongue scraping can help you get rid of it, but make sure to stay hydrated as well.

Overall oral health

Scraping your tongue decreases the number of bacteria in your mouth, which discourages infections. Conditions such as gum disease can be prevented to some extent by scraping correctly daily.

Is it bad to scrape your tongue?

Tongue scraping is a safe technique, causing little-to-no harm. Still, there are a few notable side effects to keep in mind if you use the wrong tools or press too hard on your tongue.

Gagging

The most common side effect of tongue scraping is stimulating your gag reflex if you position the scraper too far back along your tongue. This is especially true if you’re using small and light scrapers, such as those on the back of toothbrushes.

To avoid gagging, use a wide, heavy scraper. Be careful, and don't force the scraper too far back. This should eliminate gagging entirely.

Damaging papillae

The papillae that cover your tongue are key to a healthy and well-functioning sense of taste. While one of the objectives of tongue scraping is to keep papillae clear of any debris, pressing too hard can damage these delicate taste buds. If you apply too much pressure on the scraper, you’ll damage your papillae over time.

Avoiding damage is as simple as correcting the pressure you apply when tongue scraping. Remember to start gentle and slowly ramp up the intensity — if you feel pain or discomfort, lighten the pressure again. Tongue scraping should not be painful.

Bleeding

Another common consequence of applying too much pressure on the scraper is bleeding. Scrapers usually have a curved edge, so pressing too hard can cause small cuts and bruises on your tongue. Defective scrapers may also have uneven edges that are more prone to damaging your tongue.

To avoid cutting your tongue, apply less pressure when scraping. Using a different scraper may also help, as metal ones usually have sharper edges. Plastic ones may require more strokes to cover the tongue but will instead be softer on the edge.

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Does tongue scraping replace brushing?

Under no circumstances should you replace brushing with tongue scraping. Instead, scraping should complement brushing, which is the most crucial aspect of oral hygiene. 

Brushing your teeth and gums prevents gum disease, cavities, and other oral conditions and removes tooth plaque. It’s fundamental in keeping your natural teeth healthy and strong — while also avoiding bad breath and stains.

Including tongue scraping in your brushing and flossing dental routine will take you less than a minute and provide even more extensive oral care. You can even scrape when you can’t do all the steps.

When to see a dentist

Check with your dentist if you notice that your bad breath or other oral conditions don’t go away by including tongue scraping in your routine. Likewise, if you find that scraping damages your tongue even after changing the device and the pressure, book an appointment.

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Medically Reviewed on 5/26/2022
References
Dentaly.org: "How to Use a Tongue Scraper for Better Oral Hygiene."

For Care Education and Research: "Tongue Scraping: benefits, side effects and how to do it."

Johns Hopkins Medicine: "Tooth Decay (Caries or Cavities)."

Mouth Healthy: "Tongue Scrapers and Cleaners."

My Community Dental Centers: "Importance of Brushing our Teeth."

Vital Record: “You Asked: Should I Scrape My Tongue?