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Health: true or false?

Does tongue scraping help promote proper oral hygiene? We asked a dentist

Bacteria that thrive on tongues can lead to gum disease and bad breath, so regular scraping can improve your general mouth hygiene

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 09 April, 2017, 12:32pm
UPDATED : Monday, 10 April, 2017, 5:37pm

Does tongue scraping work?

The short answer: Yes

You brush and floss your teeth and gargle with mouthwash twice a day, but are you as diligent when it comes to cleaning your tongue? Tongue cleaning is said to be essential to oral hygiene, but if you did not do it regularly, would it make a difference to the overall health of your mouth?

According to Dr Sandeep Jain, a dentist based in Lan Kwai Fong, the answer is yes. “When you clean your mouth, why would you just stop at your teeth?” he asks. “Proper oral hygiene involves cleaning the entire oral cavity – teeth, gums, and the tongue.”

A clean and healthy tongue is bright pink and has a smooth texture, without any cracks (although there are some conditions, like “geographic tongue” that may cause reddish or white patches on the surface of the tongue, but they are harmless). On the other hand, a tongue that’s covered in bacteria will often have a yellowish-white coating on it. Your tongue may also feel filmy or furry, and you may experience an unpleasant metallic taste.

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Dr Jain says to think of your tongue as a deep pile carpet – unless you clean it, the bacteria will remain. The Porphyromonas gingivalis bacterium, in particular, can spread to the gums and cause gum disease. And if you have bad breath, chances are your tongue has not been cleaned in a while, as this problem is due to volatile sulphur compounds (VSCs) produced by bacteria on the tongue. Smoking, dehydration, illness and certain types of medication are also said to cause that whitish coating.

The oral hygiene market is flush with tongue scrapers that promise to clean your tongue from back to front. These implements come in an array of shapes and sizes but they all have the same purpose – to reduce or eliminate that unsightly layer of bacteria, thereby returning the upper surface of the tongue to its natural, healthy pink colour and minimising bad breath. Dr Jain says that, from the various studies he has come across, tongue scraping is more effective than tongue brushing when it comes to removing bad breath-causing VSCs – the former has been shown to remove 75 per cent of VSCs, compared to 45 per cent in the latter.

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Tongue scrapers are inexpensive and are easy to use. Simply position the device at the back of the tongue before pressing it down firmly and dragging it forward, towards the front of the tongue. The device removes the coating, which usually appears as a viscous or mucous-like fluid. You may wish to repeat this process once or twice more. When you are done, rinse the scraper under running water to remove the debris.

As long as they are used correctly and gently, tongue scrapers are not harmful. “If you’re strapped for time you can probably just brush your tongue while brushing your teeth and use a tongue scraper once a week to keep your whole mouth clean,” says Dr Jain.