I always tell people that Ayurveda is a human, time-tested form of medicine. It doesn’t need any animal experimentation to validate its effectiveness. However, certain Ayurvedic practices have been scientifically proven to offer many health benefits. Among these research-supported practices is tongue scraping, which has been around for thousands of years. We know that Ayurveda has a longer oral tradition, but the first textual reference to this practice (including a breakdown of severals steps for self-care) is in the book Charaka Samhita, which is believed to have been written about 3,000 years ago.
Why have humans been tongue scraping for so long? In Ayurveda, we say that life is what you experience. What you experience is based on the sense organs (ears, skin, eyes, tongue, and nose), which engage in sense objects (sound, touch, sight, taste, and smell). Each of these give you different impressions or feelings of pleasure or pain. These impressions are registered by your mind, and then the mind conveys them to the soul. This is how experience is seen in Ayurveda. Your life is completely shaped by your experiences, and these daily self-care rituals, as outlined in the Charaka Samhita, are meant to systematically cleanse and evoke the sense organs to perform at their best.
Tongue scraping accomplishes this goal via two key ways: sensory and motor aspects. The tongue is a dual-sense organ thanks to its ability to both taste food and provide the motor function to communicate. Taste plays such a huge part in our lives, but enjoying the flavors of our nourishment is only half of it. All foods offer six different tastes, and each one has its own psycho-emotional impression on your body and mind. The tongue helps to reveal the taste of the substances you eat. Your tongue gets coated with food material and all kinds of bacteria, so when it’s not clean, the level of sensory perception decreases, which then increases your risk of overdoing eating.
For example, if you’re nibbling a donut and your tongue is covered in debris, two bites will not saturate your tongue fully with the taste that you crave. As a result, you may be inclined to eat more than necessary, like a whole donut (or two), to get the sensory satisfaction that you desire. In this way, tongue scraping can help to properly unveil the taste of food with minimal input. In other words, a clean tongue can improve satiety and, therefore, reduce the risk of binge-eating.
The tongue also enables us to speak and relate to other human beings. Back in the day, at the dawn of this ancient practice, people believed that a clean tongue promoted positive speech with a heightened ability to communicate. These are the two main reasons that this practice continues to be important in Ayurveda today, but modern science has proven that there are some other benefits, too.
Research has shown that this practice has the power to protect against several oral hygiene issues. A study published in the Journal of Periodontology found that tongue scraping is more effective at reducing halitosis (bad breath) than brushing the tongue with a toothbrush. Other studies have shown that it can reduce levels of potentially harmful bacteria, like streptococcus and lactobacillus, both of which can colonize elsewhere in the body. Streptococcus is behind strep throat and both bacteria can cause other damaging systemic infections. Lastly, this practice has been linked to minimizing the presence of plaque in children’s mouths, which could, in turn, lower the risk of developing cavities.
If you’re ready to start subscribing to this daily ritual, the good news is, the recommended procedure is short and simple. In the past, when the sages used to live in the forest, they employed plant leaves bent in a certain fashion. Later, instruments were created from inert metals like gold, silver, and copper. I recommend a silver scraper because of its antibacterial properties and neutralizing property of acid. It’s a one-time life investment.
The scraping should be done from the back base of the tongue to the tip three times. First in the center, then on the left, and lastly on the right. That’s enough. You don’t have to keep scraping forever! We tend to think that more is better, but in this case, three times is perfect. And no need to do it twice a day because some amount of bacteria in the mouth is good for the gut biome. Aim to do it every the morning since bacterial colonization in your mouth takes place at night while you’re not eating or swallowing.
Lastly, I usually discourage people from using a brush on their tongue. While it has some benefits, it also has some harmful effects, as it may damage the taste buds. It’s better to just stick to the basics. After all, people have been doing it this way for thousands of years.