How To's

Tongue Cleaning : To Scrape or to Brush?

You may have heard that tongue cleaning should be an integral part of your oral care routine.  But, what’s the best way to cleanse — should you scrape or brush?  Why do you need a tongue scraper…can’t you just use a toothbrush to brush your tongue? 

Almost everyone can benefit from this essential, twice-daily dental hygiene habit and we’re here to help you sort it all out.  

So what is the best practice?  Let’s take a look…

Is tongue scraping more effective and safer than brushing?

Our teeth are bumpy, hard, individual and separated. There are large or small spaces between each one where plaque, bacteria, viruses and fungi can hide and flourish. That’s why a toothbrush has bristles; mainly to reach into the gaps, and remove these bugs. A toothbrush also ‘scrubs’ the hard tooth surface.

Our tongue, on the other hand, is like a plush carpet. Its “pile” creates small crooks and crevices.  Its warmth, wetness and valleys are the perfect breeding ground for certain bacteria, and unlike teeth, the tongue is soft.  Hundreds of sharp, pokey bristles may work well for tough teeth. However, like trying to clean a carpet with a broom, trying to clean the tongue with a toothbrush is ineffective and may even be harmful.

In addition, it’s important to clean the tongue all the way in the back. When this is done with a toothbrush, its bulk can elicit the gag reflex — not that great!  

A well-designed tongue scraper is curved, with a smooth and flat edge. This allows it to evenly spread out the pressure, which reduces or eliminates the gag reflex. As you gently scrape from the very back all the way to the front, it easily and effectively removes the coating of plaque and bacteria1 .

How do you choose the best tongue scraper?

So, you’ve decided to begin tongue scraping. Great! Now, which material should you choose? What are the benefits of one element over another?

As we know, tongue cleaning reduces bad breath, removes bacteria, improves taste and jump starts digestion — we need to get this right.  

Benefits of a metal tongue scraper 

Certain metal’s antibacterial effects have been valued since ancient times. Its smoothness and scratch resistance contribute to its protective properties.  Stainless steel is favored in hospital and medical situations because it is easily sterilized and is antibacterial.  Research shows that copper has the highest antimicrobial potential2  of metals; it’s perfect for killing bugs3 .

That’s why we offer two types of tongue scrapers: a stainless steel and a copper option.  While both metals are impervious to bacteria, choosing the best one for you depends on personal preference.  Stainless steel is a more durable metal and easily wipes down after each use.  Copper is a softer metal and may feel more gentle on the tongue but does require a bit more care.  It can develop a patina over time and you may wish to use a natural cleaning solution (i.e. lemon juice and baking soda) for occasional cleaning.

For a product that you regularly place into your mouth, your choice of material greatly matters.  Metals like stainless steel and copper are great.

That leaves us to talk about plastic…

Plastic tongue scrapers — an important caution

A study published in the journal, Materials, gave insight into the different materials that repel or attract bacteria. Rough, irregular surfaces promote bacterial adhesion or ‘stickiness’, whereas smooth surfaces do not. Porous surfaces allow bugs to accumulate and thrive, dense materials don’t. Scratches or grooves allow bugs to cling and prosper.

Compared to metals, plastic is more easily damaged, more porous, and prone to scratching. This can make plastic tongue scrapers harder to keep clean and leave them harboring harmful bacteria.  Not exactly something you want to put in your mouth two times a day. And it’s also why most people would rather eat with silverware rather than plasticware!

The Takeaway

A stainless steel or copper tongue scraper should be part of your twice-daily dental hygiene practice. It will safely and effectively clean your tongue — helping to reduce bad breath, remove bacteria, improve your taste and jump start digestion.

If you’d like to know more, we discuss why tongue scraping forms an important part of your dental hygiene routine in part one of this article . We also share exactly how to scrape your tongue correctly.

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