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Why is everyone suddenly into tongue scraping?

"You mean, you don't tongue-scrape?" whispered a friend over dinner with the same incredulity as if I'd said I never shower.

In the following weeks, I talked to three more friends who said they picked up the dental-care habit during pandemic-prompted self-care kicks. I noticed TikTok creators posting how-tos and Tend, the trendy new dental offices geared toward millennials, selling a $9 tongue scraper right alongside a $100 sonic toothbrush.

I couldn't help but wonder: was everyone tongue scraping but me? And perhaps more importantly… what's the appeal?

What is tongue scraping?

To get to the bottom of the boom, I had to get familiar with what tongue scraping actually is. This didn't require too much detective work: it's pretty much exactly what it sounds like. "Tongue scraping is the process of using a curve-shaped tool, typically crafted in stainless steel or silicone, to remove buildup and unwanted bacteria from the tongue's surface," says dentist Michael Apa, founder of Apa Aesthetic.

According to a paper published by The Journal of the American Dental Association, tongue scraping has been practiced for centuries in places like India and South America (using tools crafted from materials including wood, whalebone, and tortoiseshell), but it's only comparatively recently that Westerners became hip to practice.

What are the benefits of tongue scraping?

In the years since, studies have been conducted that suggest tongue scraping can help subdue halitosis. "The bacteria that tongue scraping removes can cause decay and bad breath," says dentist Marc Lowenberg, founder of Lowenberg, Lituchy & Kantor. "The tongue has a large surface area, and it is easy for debris to get stuck on it. Rinsing helps, but using a tongue scraper is very beneficial."

Proponents also report that it leaves their mouth feeling remarkably fresher overall. "I love tongue scraping," says Allure's own digital art director Ingrid Frahm. "Or maybe, I just hate not tongue scraping. If for some reason I can't [do it], it truly feels like not brushing my teeth at this point — gross."

Amra Hajdarevic, co-founder of oral care brand Terra & Co., also tongue-scrapes daily. For her, the practice is an Ayurvedic ritual similar to dry brushing and oil pulling in that it helps remove ama, which she defines as "any accumulation of toxic residue in the mind and body."

Are there any risks to tongue scraping?

No matter your motivations, it might be worth giving tongue scraping a try, since — according to Dr. Lowenberg — there's no inherent risk to the practice. (Injury and irritation only arise when you scrape too hard, he says.)

That said, despite its recent surge and long history, “the American Dental Association doesn't consider tongue scraping necessary for good dental hygiene, and neither do I," says Dr. Apa, who instead emphasizes the importance of brushing morning and night, using floss and mouth rinse, and visiting your dentist for a cleaning at least twice a year. But if you like the way tongue scraping feels, he says, you can incorporate it into your routine as "the third step after brushing and flossing, and prior to rinsing with mouthwash."

How should you use a tongue scraper?

Before you give tongue scraping a go, there are a few basic guidelines to keep in mind. To start, consider investing in a stainless steel scraper, which — in addition to being intrinsically more hygienic than plastic — can be used over and over again. My tool of choice was Terra & Co. Gentle Green Tongue Scraper, which Hajdarevic says can last up to a decade with proper care.

Next, follow Dr. Apa's advice: "Start at the back of the tongue and pull the scraper forward, using light pressure. Do this two or three times, rinsing the scraper under warm water between pulls. Once done, give your mouth a rinse to ensure nothing was left behind."

Reader, I tried it. And… I liked it.

Did it take several attempts to get my tongue to unfurl when confronted with a metal object? Totally. Was I grossed out by the film that formed on the scraper as I ran it along my tongue? Absolutely. Would I classify my breath as fresher and my mouth as far cleaner immediately afterwards? Yes, and yes.

While it's tough to pinpoint exactly why the ancient practice of tongue scraping is having a 21st-century resurgence, I'd guess it's a combination of that heightened focus on self-care plus a newfound understanding of Ayurveda — and of course, the far-reaching influence of WellnessTok. Or maybe it's just because the end result is so darn satisfying. No matter — I'm sold.

This article was originally published on Allure.

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