How important is tongue scraping?
Oral hygiene experts consider tongue scraping one of the four stages (brushing, flossing, mouth washing/rinsing) of a total mouth clean. However, since research has shown that tongue scraping has very little to no impact on dental plaque formation, and it’s only benefiting certain people who have halitosis (bad breath) or xerostomia (dry mouth), it’s almost never recommended by dental professionals and therefore not considered very important.
What is its role in oral hygiene?
Tongue cleaning is performed to reduce bacteria load located on its surface and to make it less available for biofilm formation. Even so, only regular tongue scraping over time has been proven to have an effect on the number of bacteria meaning and sporadic mechanical removal of coating has only limited benefits, if none.
What type of bacteria form on the tongue and why? How does it affect the mouth biome?
Due to its surface appearance, which consists of a high concentration of crypts around the taste buds, the tongue is very populated with anaerobes-a type of bacteria that don’t need free oxygen to live and they use fermentation as a source of energy, but also anaerobes motile-a type of bacteria that move independently around and they’re also found in saliva or other areas of the oral cavity. The neutral pH of the tongue is also ideal for these microbes to thrive. Certain species of bacteria residing on this surface are also known as being responsible for producing VSCs-volatile sulphur compounds-which are considered to be the main cause for malodour (bad breath).
What is its relative importance compared to teeth-brushing?
Tongue scraping addresses a very limited area of the mouth when it comes to oral hygiene and it is optional unless specifically recommended. It does not replace brushing and flossing, but it can reduce the overall number of mouth bacteria. It is considered to contribute to the general cleanliness of the oral cavity.
Does it have a role in help keeping teeth whiter or help with any other aspect of dental health or ageing?
Diet habits, smoking and drinking, antiseptic mouthwashes, medication etc can all contribute to the temporary staining of the tongue and that can last on its surface even for days. As the staining ends up washed by the saliva and other autocleaning processes the chance of the teeth getting more stained increases. So yes, scraping off a layer of stained coating from the surface of the tongue sooner rather than later does help with maintaining teeth stain free to some extent, therefore whiter.
In older patients who have no teeth tongue scraping is a daily requirement as tongue-coating is associated with aspiration pneumonia.
Does tongue scraping help us taste better / the taste buds work better?
It’s unlikely to notice any change or improvement of the taste after tongue scrapping. On the other hand, aggressive removal of the coating might cause damage to the nerve endings of the taste buds resulting in a temporary lack of taste.
How much does tongue scraping help address bad breath?
As bacteria responsible for bad breath is located on the tongue (but not only) an overgrowth will affect the overall breath smell and keeping it at bay by regular scrapping will benefit someone struggling with this problem. But it is very important to distinguish between halitosis-which is caused by these types of bacteria, and what we think of as bad breath-a coffee smelly breath, a garlicky smelly breath etc. Tongue scrapping does not help with temporary bad breath as a result of ingesting something, but with a permanent problem related to certain bacteria residing on the tongue surface.