Dentist appointments are one of the most dreaded dates on a lot of people’s calendars. And it’s not just the pain of a scheduled root canal that strikes fear in our hearts—a regular teeth cleaning can trigger anxiety over the prospect of hearing four frightening words.
Have you been flossing?
Every time the dentist drops the question, in a tone that we sometimes perceive as judgmental, all we can do is lay back, vulnerable with our mouths wide open, and cower. We don’t need to answer—not that we even could right that second—the dentist already knows the truth.
As annoying as that question is, at some point in life, many dentists will drop another bomb on patients: Have you been scraping your tongue?
Surprisingly, many of us aren’t privy to the importance of this oral health practice. When my dentist first brought it up to me as an unsuspecting child, he had me look at my tongue and notice the white film on it. It was plaque. The truth is, not every parent—including mine—teaches their kids to brush their tongues. Even people with the most immaculate dental routines don’t always know about scraping, based on a casual poll conducted here at Thrive HQ.
Many followers of Ayurveda, however, are wise to the health benefits of tongue scraping—benefits that are also backed by science. It’s common knowledge that the oral cavity is home to a massive microbiota. Halitosis is primarily caused by volatile sulfur compounds (VSCs), and half of these cases stem from bacterial residue on the tongue. Studies have shown that tongue scraping twice daily significantly reduces bacteria on the tongue and improves breath, and it's 30 percent more effective at reducing VSCs than simply brushing the tongue.
And tongue scraping practice isn’t strictly about freshening breath. Certain bacterial residue on the tongue—like the film of plaque some of us end up ignoring for years—can contribute to tooth decay, gum infections, and more ailments, so scraping can help clear this out for improved overall oral health.
This practice can also heighten the sensation of taste, since it cleanses mucus and plaque tend to build up on the taste buds. Ayurveda practitioners believe this improved sense of taste can help prevent cravings for excess sugar and salt, and therefore promote a healthier diet and prevent weight gain. They also hold that stimulating the taste buds and activating saliva production can help kickstart metabolism and give it a boost throughout the day.
So how do you do it?
For starters, try this handy tongue scraper. Reach the scraper as far back on the tongue as possible, and pull it along to the front of the tongue five to 10 times, rinsing the scraper at each pass. Do this twice daily before brushing.
Maybe you won’t click your heels next time you make your way to the dentist, but brace yourself for compliments. Even better—your mouth will feel so fresh and so clean.
Illustration by Karley Koenig