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As the function of the microbiota of the mouth becomes more understood, ancient techniques to support oral hygiene are becoming more popular. One practice backed by numerous studies is called tongue scraping (Jihwa Prakshalana).
Tongue scraping is the simple practice of scraping your tongue before brushing your teeth. Studies have shown that this simple technique:
- Reduces undesirable bacteria in the mouth that can compromise gum, teeth and oral health. (1)
- Reduces volatile sulfur compounds (VSC), which are by-products of mouth bacteria linked to bad breath. (2)
- Improves taste sensation and reduces tongue coating. (3)
- Changes the environment of the mouth to reduce putrefaction and decrease bacterial load. (3, 8)
Traditionally, according to one of the Ayurvedic texts, the Charaka Samhita, tongue scrapers should be made of gold, silver, copper, tin, or brass. Toxins (ama) would be collected on the back of the tongue that could cause obstructions in respiration and foul smell. (4)
When certain bacteria on the tongue and in the oral cavity break down certain proteins in the mouth, volatile sulfur compounds (VSCs) are released that result in bad breath. Studies have confirmed the benefits of tongue scraping as an effective way to reduce volatile sulfur compounds. In fact, tongue scraping greatly outperforms tooth brushing to accomplish this. (2)
While a gold or silver tongue scraper would be amazing, new research on the health benefits of copper make a copper tongue scraper hard to beat. Copper has been used for centuries as a bacteria-resistant metal, and new studies are confirming these ancient practices. (4, 5, 6)
Copper may be the best metal to be used for tongue scraping because the mouth is loaded with both good and not-so-good bacteria. Copper not only seems to be toxic to the bad bacteria, it also provides important enzymes that are needed for the healthy microbes in the mouth to survive. (5)
In one study, the antiseptic benefits of copper were so great that, when copper was put in hospital rooms as furnishings, the bacteria count on all of the surfaces in the rooms was significantly reduced. (7) Some hospitals are now incorporating copper furnishings as part of their anti-bacterial strategies.
Oral Hygiene and Beyond!
Beyond the benefits of oral hygiene, tongue scraping, brushing, and flossing the teeth followed by drinking a large glass of water is a strategic way to kick-start the digestive process. By stimulating the taste buds with tongue scraping, not only is the tongue better able to perceive tastes and properly digest foods (3), this taste bud-activation also engages the lower intestines to initiate a complete bowel elimination first thing in the morning.
A copper tongue scraper will not only offer great oral hygiene benefits while scraping the tongue, it will also resist bacterial accumulation while not in use – results that last! Due to its beneficial properties, silver would be the second choice for tongue scraper material, although stainless steel is more than adequate to perform the job.
How to Scrape your Tongue
1. In the morning, right after you wake up, scrape your tongue. Make it the first thing you do. Even if you wake up in the middle of the night, scraping the tongue followed by a glass of water can reduce accumulating digestive ama (toxins).
2. With a relaxed tongue, using your U-shaped tongue scraper, gently reach to the back of the tongue and scrape the tongue from back to front. Repeat this 5-10 times, reaching as far back as comfortable, rinsing the scraper after each pass. A slight gag can help bring up some mucus and ama from the back of the throat.
3. Follow tongue scraping with brushing (with non-fluoride toothpaste), flossing, and a large glass of water.
4. To complete an Ayurvedic oral hygiene routine, this can be followed by oil pulling – of course, this would require another round of tooth brushing.
5. Get into the habit of scraping your tongue prior to each brushing.
- Charaka Samhita. Sutrasthana. Ch 5. Verse 71-75