There's been a flurry of articles recently about the ancient Ayurvedic practice of oil pulling. Everyone from fashion blogs to CNN have been extolling the benefits oil pulling and recommending the best oil types with which to swish. Perhaps it is our newfound collective obsession with holistic living (of which organic oils are an integral part) that had oil pulling become so on-trend. Not that I'm knocking it -- I've tried it and found it beneficial... albeit gross.
An Alternative to Oil Pulling
There is, however, another Ayurvedic practice that has not received the same love and attention that oil pulling has, but that has proven benefits to which I can personally attest. I'm writing this to set that record straight and shed some light on... tongue scraping.
Tongue Scraping? Sounds Painful...
It's not. It is a quick, simple and extremely inexpensive practice (all you need is a $7 tongue cleaner!) that reaps many benefits. I call tongue scraping the "unsung hero of oral health." I have been enthusiastically tongue scraping for years now, and I don't see how anyone could try tongue scraping once, see the gunk you remove from your tongue, and not become an enthusiast as well. I therefore urge you to go out and start scraping today.
How About a Professional Opinion?
Kim Shamoun, a veteran registered dental hygienist and fellow tongue scraping zealot, says, "I can't live without tongue scraping. Without a doubt, it should be a part of our daily oral hygiene regimen. I stress to my patients, friends, family and strangers alike how important it really is. A tongue scraper is the one thing I would want with me on a deserted island... forget the lipstick!"
Why Else Would I Do Something that Sounds Like Medieval Torture?
We all know about, and to some extent suffer from, morning breath. (Am I the only one that performs a huge eye roll when movie lovebirds play kissy face immediately upon waking? No one is doing that IRL. Get a grip, directors.)
Well it just so happens that tongue scraping is one of the best defenses against halitosis, period! And if you scrape regularly, especially before bed, your morning breath will be drastically reduced. Why? Think about it: It's called "oral hygiene." So you brush your teeth, you floss your gums, but that big plush carpet that sits on the bottom of your mouth gets ignored. Doesn't make much sense, does it? Actually, the soft, spongy, bumpy texture of the tongue is the perfect little breeding ground for bacteria! What you scrape off your tongue is this bacteria along with various other toxins (ick). This bacteria is odor-causing, so the less bacteria, the less smell.
How Else Does a Dirty Mouth Affect Overall Health?
Taste. Housing our taste buds is the tongue's best-known role. But when your tongue is coated in gunk, your taste buds have no chance to fully enjoy that wild mushroom risotto, molten chocolate cake or any other delicious morsel. And decreased taste actually leads to decreased...
Digestion. We all know that digestion begins in the mouth; saliva is filled with enzymes that start breaking down food. And, you know, there's that chewing thing as well. The cleaner the mouth, the better you can taste your food (i.e., the more "mouth-watering" it is) the better your digestion is!
Plaque. The more soft plaque you have on your tongue, the more hard plaque will form on your teeth. This leads to -- yup -- bad breath, but also tooth decay! As an aside, every time I go for my biannual teeth cleaning, my dentist compliments me on my at-home oral care. She's actually told me "There's really no plaque here for me to clean." Thank you, tongue scraping!
Overall health. According to the Mayo Clinic (just one of many sources on this subject), oral bacteria and poor oral hygiene are linked to several other diseases, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease and even infertility. At less than a minute a day, tongue scraping is the ultimate ounce of prevention worth a pound of cure!
You Might Be Saying...
You may read this and say (perhaps a bit smugly), "I do clean my tongue, with my toothbrush!" Well, your heart's in the right place, but you've got the wrong tool in your hand. "An ordinary toothbrush is not recommended; it does not remove the micro-organisms from the tongue properly" says Shamoun. Just as the malleable surface of your multi-bristled toothbrush is optimal for cleaning the hard surface of your teeth, you need a solid surface (like a stainless steel tongue scraper) to really clean the squishy surface of your tongue. A U-shaped tongue scraper is where it's at. I really like super-stylish Amano metal tongue cleaners; Shamoun recommends Breath Rx.
A Tongue Scraping How-to Guide
As I said, it is quick and simple, though timing does matter. Ideally, you want to tongue scrape as soon upon waking as possible, before you've eaten anything, drank anything or brushed your teeth. Just open wide (you don't want to hit your teeth with the scraper), stick your tongue out and, starting from the back, glide the scraper over your entire tongue. Rinse it after each scrape. Do this at least five times, and/or until your scrapes come up clean, meaning you've gotten all the gunk off! You may want to do it in the bathroom mirror over the sink at first, so you can make sure you are getting to the back of your tongue. Then, once you're familiar with the feeling of that, you can do it sans mirror.
"The most posterior portion of the tongue collects the most buildup, so you really have to make sure you reach far back. The frequency should be a regular basis, morning and evening," advises Shamoun.