Oral hygiene devices have come a long way since the invention of the toothbrush.
The original toothbrushes were devised in the 1400s and consisted of hog’s hair bristles attached to a handle made of bone or bamboo. From these simple tools arose a whole slew of oral care products ranging from electric toothbrushes to water flossers. There’s now a device for cleaning every aspect of your oral cavity, from your teeth, to in between your teeth, to your tongue.
In fact, cleaning your tongue with a dedicated product—dubbed a “tongue scraper”—is becoming all the rage. Tongue scrapers are no longer confined to niche health food shops; you can now find them at your local grocery store or pharmacy or all over the web.
If you haven’t already hopped on the tongue scraper bandwagon, here’s what you need to know about what these products do (and whether they’re actually worth it).
Tongue scrapers are simple tools: They’re just thin, semi-circular pieces of plastic or metal. To use one, you grasp the two sides of the scraper and drag the curved portion of the tool from the back of your tongue to the front.
Why rub one of these scrapers over your tongue? The theory is this process helps remove bacteria, dead cells, food debris, fungi, and other buildup from the tongue’s surface—and that doing so may result in better oral health and fresher smelling breath. In the following section, we’ll dive into whether there’s any merit to these claims.
There are certainly benefits to cleaning your tongue. In fact, doing so is an important part of a proper oral health care routine.
That’s because bacteria, food particles, and other debris love to congregate on tongues. If these substances aren’t removed, they can contribute to bad breath and a bacteria-laden oral cavity, which is detrimental to oral health. This helps explain why proper oral health care involves brushing your tongue on a daily basis.
Which begs the question: Are tongue scrapers any more useful than simply brushing your tongue with a regular ‘ol toothbrush? So far, answers to that question are mixed—but the research is generally positive.
Some research suggests tongue scraping may relieve bad breath (at least temporarily). That’s largely because using a tongue scraper can reduce the levels of bad-breath-causing volatile sulfur compounds (VSC) on the tongue—and it may do so more effectively than a toothbrush.
There’s also some evidence tongue scrapers may be especially useful for addressing symptoms of coated tongue resulting from smoking, dry mouth, yeast infections, medications, and/or poor oral hygiene. Tongue scrapers may also be extra helpful for treating bad breath resulting from sinus drainage, so folks who suffer from allergies or frequent colds may benefit from using these tools.
At the very least, there doesn’t seem to be much evidence that tongue scrapers could be harmful. They’re easy to use, affordable, and highly portable, so you won’t have to make a big investment in order to see if a tongue scraper works for you.
If you do opt to use a tongue scraper, be sure not to use the tool as a replacement for proper brushing and flossing. A comprehensive oral care routine is key to enjoying fresh breath and greater oral health.