Fact Checked

How to Use a Tongue Scraper

Written by Fernanda Elizalde

April 01, 2023

Medically Reviewed

By Dr. Greg Grillo, DDS

If you've never used a tongue scraper, these oral hygiene tools remove germs and bacteria from a film-coated tongue. For instance, they can remove food particles and volatile sulfur compounds left behind from the foods you eat. Tooth or tongue brushes don't work as well as tongue scraping does when you have a white-coated tongue. 

What are Tongue Scrapers?

Tongue scrapers are loop-shaped plastic or metal oral hygiene devices used for cleaning the top ("dorsal") surface of your tongue. If you have a healthy mouth, using a tongue cleaner can remove some of the bacteria that lodge between the papilla (tiny bumps) and taste buds on top of your tongue. 

A typical tongue scraper is reusable and can be washed with warm water and antimicrobial hand soap or run through a dishwasher. Depending on your preferences, some tongue scraper designs have various textures that are gentler or firmer than others. 

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Do Tongue Scrapers Improve Oral Health?

While cleaning your tongue will remove harmful bacteria, the biggest benefit is its effects against bad breath. As you improve oral hygiene practices like brushing and flossing, incorporating tongue cleaning does lower the total number of bacterial colonies inside your mouth. But unlike flossing to prevent cavities or gum disease, a tongue scraper improves your oral health and quality of life by addressing the causes of chronic bad breath. That's because approximately 90% of bad breath-causing bacteria are found on the surface of your tongue.

If you're someone who struggles with bad breath, daily tongue scraping can make a tremendous impact on your quality of life. While periodontal or cavity causing bacteria are different from what you'll find across your tongue, tongue cleansers can target the odor-causing microbes that impact things like the way your food tastes or how your breath smells to other people. 

how to use a tongue scraper

How To Use a Tongue Scraper

Whenever you use a tongue scraper, it's important that you start at the back of your tongue and pull the scraper forward, applying light to moderate pressure. Scrape your tongue from back to front, rinse the scraper off with water, then repeat one or two more times as needed. Finish by rinsing your mouth with an alcohol-free mouthwash.

If your mouth is healthy and generally clean, you will probably see a fair amount of buildup or film across your tongue scraper each time you use it. People with dry mouth or who smoke may see less residue.

Tongue scraping does take some getting used to. If it's your first time using a tongue scraper, be sure to apply gentle pressure. If you have a sensitive gag reflex, this process can take a bit of practice. Fortunately, most people get used to using a tongue scraper after a few tries. 

How Tongue Scraping Works

Tongue scraping doesn't work like a toothbrush or floss. Instead of safeguarding you against periodontal disease or tooth decay, adding tongue scraping into your routine benefits your overall oral cavity. As you remove residual food particles, dental plaque, and dead cells across the surface of your tongue, it helps freshen your breath and reduce bad breath bacteria. 

Even if you brush and floss effectively each day, you can still have germs or bacteria across the top of your tongue. While tongue scrapers may not be a part of your standard oral hygiene routine, using a tongue scraper can significantly freshen your breath. 

Benefits of Tongue Scraping

Using a tongue scraper regularly helps to remove food particles, volatile sulfur compounds, and bacterial flora known for contributing to bad breath. While most of us think of cleaning tongues as part of our brushing routine, the microbial load across our tongue surface goes untouched. 

Unlike a toothbrush, which typically skips over the small bumpy surface across your tongue, tongue scrapers clean away dead cells and food particles across the entire tongue. Using tongue cleaners on a regular basis can have a huge impact on your breath and the overall bacterial load inside your mouth.

Plastic vs. Metal Tongue Scrapers

Choosing the best tongue scrapers and cleaners usually comes down to your personal preference. But it's generally thought that plastic scrapers are a bit gentler on your tongue. Plastic ones are more flexible while scraping your tongue, so they can remove debris without too much irritation. On the other hand, a metal scraper is a bit more durable, so it can easily be washed and maintained for a longer amount of time. 

If you're new to scraping your tongue, most private practice dentists and dental hygienists will typically recommend a flexible plastic tongue scraper to start out with.

Tongue Scraper FAQs

Can I use a tongue scraper if I have a sensitive gag reflex?

Although it will be difficult to scrape your tongue if you have a hyperactive gag reflex, it's not impossible. You can keep your mouth healthy regardless of your tendency to gag. That being said, the benefits of tongue scraping are worthwhile if you can power through the process and develop a tolerance to using a tongue scraper. 

Will scraping your tongue harm your taste buds?

Not when used as directed. Scraping should be gentle and always in a back-to-front motion rather than the other way around. This direction helps prevent irritation to your tongue or taste buds, whether you have visible tongue coating or not. Similarly, make sure you’re using an alcohol-free mouthwash to prevent burning or other irritation.

Are tongue scrapers as good as tongue brushes?

To remove bad breath germs or a tongue coating, professionals recommend tongue scraping as opposed to brushing your tongue. While it's acceptable to use a toothbrush to clean your tongue, tongue cleaning is more effective when you scrape your tongue instead. To remove bacteria that cause bad breath, you have to be able to get between the tiny papilla that cover your tongue. Experts with the American Dental Association and Cleveland Clinic recommend tongue scraping in addition to your typical oral hygiene routine. 

Will the rough edge remove bacteria if I have dry mouth?

It may be a bit more uncomfortable to scrape your tongue if you have xerostomia (chronic dry mouth.) Some people will use an inverted spoon instead because of the smooth surface. A traditional tongue scraper will be more effective, but this method can help people transition as they add tongue scraping to their overall oral health routine. 

Is there a negative impact of using a tongue scraper?

According to professional medical advice, there are no negative side effects of tongue scraping if the device is used as directed. However, some people with sensitive gag reflexes may have difficulty using a tongue scraper. 

Talk to a Professional

If you're looking for an effective method for removing bacteria in your mouth and naturally treating bad breath, tongue scraping is an excellent choice. Using these appliances each day is an easy way to improve your breath and boost your oral health. To help choose the most appropriate oral hygiene aid for your concerns or for advice on how to best use one of these devices, talk to your dentist or dental hygienist. 

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