Stick out your tongue and take a long, hard look. Does it have a slightly white or light yellowish coating? We thought so. This coating is an accumulation of bacteria, food debris, toxins and dead cells. Also referred to as ama in ayurvedic medicine, this accumulation is the residue of undigested food. We know, how appetizing. So why aren’t you doing something about it?
We wash our hair and face, brush our teeth and skin, clean our nails and ears, so why not clean the tongue? The tongue accumulates toxins and gets dirty just like all of our other body parts, and it is in our mouth! An unclean tongue not only is unhygienic, but it also poses a substantial health risk to the body. From increasing the chances of gum disease, to causing stress on the heart, keeping the tongue free from toxic build up is an essential practice for a healthy body. Our simplest health tip? Scrape your tongue.
Tongue scraping, also called jihwa prakshalana, is a cleansing practice that is widely utilized in the Eastern and holistic world. It is the practice of taking a metal tongue scraper and pulling it over the tongue in order to remove its coating. By removing the coating, or soft plaque from the tongue, you are removing most of the bacteria and other debris that are the primary source of bad breath, plaque or tartar, and acids that may lead to tooth decay. The best part is that the tongue is left clean and pink, allowing for a truly refreshing taste in the mouth. This practice is one that may seem odd at first, but we promise you that once you get going, you will never go without. The sheer image of scraping built up toxins off of your tongue is reason enough to become attached to this practice, but you will be fully converted once checking out the numerous ways in which it can improve your health overall.
1. Bad Breath: A common cause of bad breath, or halitosis, is from post-nasal drip. This mucus coats the back of the tongue, which leads to odor. A tongue scraper is an easy and effective way to remove this coating from sinus drainage. Studies have also revealed that tongue scraping makes a significant difference in reducing volatile sulfur compounds (VSC), the very thing that produces bad breath.
2. Prevent Cavities and Reduce Plaque: Research has proven that tongue scraping reduces levels of streptococcus mutans and lactobacillus. These are bacteria that are shown to be directly correlated to an increased incidence of cavities as well as plaque.
3. Improve Cardiovascular Health: Research is beginning to see a connection between the health of the oral cavity and the cardiovascular system. Several species of bacteria that cause periodontitis (gum infection) have been found in the atherosclerotic plaque in arteries of the heart and elsewhere. This plaque can lead to heart attack. Harvard University also believes that the toxins released by this oral bacteria could harm blood vessels or cause blood clots. In addition, any inflammation of the mouth, which can be caused by bacteria, can increase inflammation throughout the body, including in the arteries. This increases the risk of a heart attack and stroke. Tongue scraping is an easy way to reduce the bacteria, lower levels of inflammation, and possibly prevent any infection from taking place.
4. Decrease Complications of the Respiratory Tract: Research has indicated that bacteria in the mouth can end up in the airways of the lung. These bacteria have shown to increase the risk of respiratory infection (including pneumonia and bronchitis) and pulmonary disease.
5. Keep your gums healthy: In most cases, gum disease and inflammation of the gums are related to plaque build up. Plaque contains many different types of bacteria. Some of these bacteria are associated with developing gum disease. Tongue scraping can reduce those bacteria that cause plaque, reducing the incidence of gum disease and inflammation.
7. Reduced risk of a pre-term pregnancy: The Journal of Periodontology indicates that proper oral health predicated on normal bacteria in the mouth significantly reduced the risk of having a pre-term birth or low-birth-weight infant. Tools used to increase the health of the gums and oral cavity reduced pre-term birth and low birth weight infant rates by 68% in women with pregnancy-associated gingivitis.
8. Increase the taste sensation: We love to eat, so what a better reason to tongue scrape than to increase our ability to taste food! By increasing our taste sensation, the more consciously we will eat. This is because our taste buds send signals to our brain. These signals help to control digestion. The more in tune our brain is with what we are eating, the more we read the signals of fullness, the better we digest our food and the more efficiently we utilize the food we eat.
9. Open meridian channels and stimulate organ function: The tongue has many relationships and connections in the body, both to the meridians and the internal organs. The center front of the tongue is associated with the neck, chest and heart, the left front with the left lung, and the right front with the right lung. The back of the tongue reflects the intestines and colon as well as the left and right kidney. Finally, the mid-center of the tongue connects to the stomach and pancreas, the left center the spleen, and right center the liver. By scraping the tongue, we stimulate these areas and the corresponding organs. This opens the meridian channels, increasing the energy and function of the organs.
WHY NOT BRUSH THE TONGUE WITH A TOOTHBRUSH? While brushing and flossing removes bacteria from teeth and gums, about 50% of the bacteria in the mouth lives on the surface of our tongue. Brushing the tongue does not effectively clear this bacteria. In some cases, it even pushes it farther back into the mouth. Tongue scraping alone has the ability to reach back onto the tongue where the majority of the bacteria lies, removing it from the surface.
How to scrape your tongue: To scrape your tongue, hold the two ends of the tongue scraper in both hands. Stick out the tongue and place the tongue scraper at the very back of the tongue. Pull the scraper forward gently. Make sure to cover the whole tongue so that it removes the unwanted coating. Then rinse the tongue scraper under water. Repeat this practice about 5-7 times, or until no coating is left. Don’t scrape the tongue too harshly or it may damage the tissue.
Best time to Tongue Scrape: Scrape the tongue twice a day. Once in the morning, and once in the evening. It is best to scrape right after brushing your teeth.
What tongue scraper should you buy? We highly suggest purchasing a stainless steel tongue scraper. Avoid the plastic ones. Stainless steel is not only more effective, but it also helps to balance the three ayurvedic body constitutions: vata, pitta and kapha. Make sure the tongue scraper is wide enough to cover the surface width of the tongue. Our favorite is Dr. Tung’s Stainless Steel Tongue Cleaner. It not only is made of stainless steel, but it comes with two rubber handles, which makes it really easy to use and very durable.
How the coating of the tongue reflects health: One more thing we want to leave you with is how the coating of your tongue gives you clues to your overall health. The characteristics of the coating on your tongue is a reflection of the balance of bacteria in your body, the efficiency of the organs, and most importantly the function of your digestive system.
A thin, pale white coating on the tongue is normal and indicates good digestion. This means you are most likely not eating the wrong foods for your body type and are releasing proper levels of digestive enzymes and hydrochloric acid (HCL). If there is a thick coating, whether yellowish or white, this indicates an imbalance of bacteria, impaired digestive function, and excessive dampness in the body (possibly from an increase in mucus). Most often cutting out mucus-forming, hard-to-digest foods such as white flour, white sugar, dairy, processed foods and excessive animal protein can bring this back into balance. In addition, it could also indicate the need of digestive enzymes and HCL, as well suggesting the incorporation of fermented foods or a probiotic supplement to bring the bacteria back into balance. Finally, if there is no coating at all, and the tongue is dry and cracking, this could mean dehydration or exhaustion in the body. Try increasing your fluid and mineral intake. If that does not help, it could also refer to a blood deficiency (iron deficiency) or excessive heat (inflammation, hormone imbalance).
TCM Take-Away: Whatever state the coating of your tongue is in, tongue scraping can help. You will notice that by scraping the tongue everyday, you will see a change in the coating of the tongue, bringing it back to normal. Once the tongue has a normal coating, keep scraping the tongue, because it is essential for prevention.