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Tongue Scraping: Safeguard Both Your Oral & Gut Microbiomes



Starting with a brief overview before delving into the science and research: Tongue scraping, known as "Jihwa Prakshalana" in Ayurvedic medicine, boasts a rich history rooted in ancient Indian healing practices, spanning over 3,000 years. In Ayurveda, it holds a pivotal role in daily oral hygiene and holistic well-being. The method involves using a specialized tool, traditionally crafted from copper, silver, or stainless steel, to gently remove accumulated debris, bacteria, dead cells, and food particles from the tongue's surface. Typically performed in the morning before consuming any food or beverages, this practice aims to eliminate toxins that amass on the tongue overnight. It is believed not only to bolster oral health but also to enhance digestion, facilitate clearer breathing, and contribute to overall bodily balance—a perfect alignment with Ayurvedic principles.


Now, let's delve into the scientific rationale behind tongue scraping to substantiate these claims. During sleep, several processes unfold within our oral cavity. Throughout the day, we encounter environmental contaminants, partake in food and beverage consumption, and engage in various metabolic activities. These processes can either harbor waste products or generate them. The tongue's surface, adorned with tiny, hair-like structures known as papillae, is not perfectly smooth. These papillae, equipped with taste buds, serve diverse functions, including assisting in food manipulation and tasting. However, they also create a textured landscape where debris can become ensnared. This encompasses debris, bacteria, minuscule food particles, dead epithelial cells, and toxins, all congregating between and around the papillae, primarily within the grooves and crevices.


To summarize this, the oral cavity is lined with a mucous membrane composed of diverse cell types, including epithelial cells. These cells maintain a limited lifespan and perpetually undergo shedding and regeneration. As older cells are shed, they mingle with other oral substances like bacteria and food particles, resulting in the formation of a thin layer of cellular debris on the tongue's surface. Now, regarding bacteria, it is vital to bear in mind that the oral microbiome bears a close connection to the gut microbiome. Thus, eliminating pathogenic oral microbes becomes paramount. These bacteria feed on dietary carbohydrates, which may encompass lingering food particles in the mouth. During the metabolization of these carbohydrates, they might produce metabolic byproducts, such as volatile sulfur compounds. These compounds, including hydrogen sulfide, methyl mercaptan, and dimethyl sulfide, can give rise to bad breath, or halitosis, among other effects. Furthermore, bacterial colonies can produce acids like formic acid and succinic acid. These acids can influence oral pH levels, potentially impacting the health of oral tissues. This becomes particularly pronounced when optimal saliva flow is lacking.


So, in a nutshell, as bacteria, coupled with their potentially detrimental metabolites, accumulate on the tongue's surface, thorough cleaning becomes indispensable for maintaining an optimal oral microbiome. When saliva flow becomes more stagnant during sleep, it becomes logical to incorporate tongue scraping into the morning routine to address what saliva couldn't during the night.


Now, let's transition to research studies to gauge the effectiveness of tongue scraping. One study compared different tongue cleaners and found that all tongue cleaners significantly reduced Winkle's tongue coating scores. Notably, plastic and metal tongue scrapers yielded significant reductions (p <0.001) in anaerobic bacterial counts compared to using the back of a toothbrush. Another study focused on children and explored the effects of tongue scraping and tongue brushing on existing plaque levels. The study revealed that incorporating tongue scraping into the daily routine, alongside tooth brushing, led to substantial reductions in plaque levels after both 10 and 21 days, providing further support for the benefits of tongue cleaning.


In conclusion, maintaining a clean mouth contributes to an overall sense of cleanliness and well-being. It not only ensures better oral hygiene but also aids in maintaining a healthy oral microbiome. This practice can prevent the ingestion of harmful bacteria and their metabolites that could potentially affect gut health. In a general tongue scraping protocol, it is advisable to start by washing your hands, perform the scraping in the morning before eating or drinking, extend the tongue, and gently but firmly scrape from the back to the front. Finally, when choosing a tongue scraper, opt for stainless steel or copper materials due to their durability, ease of cleaning, and lower likelihood of harboring bacteria. Ultimately, the goal is to decrease bacterial load, not contribute to it with inadequately cleaned tongue scrapers.


Sources:


Dwivedi V, Torwane NA, Tyagi S, Maran S. Effectiveness of Various Tongue Cleaning Aids in the Reduction of Tongue Coating and Bacterial Load: A Comparative Clinical Study. J Contemp Dent Pract. 2019 Apr 1;20(4):444-448. PMID: 31308274.


Winnier JJ, Rupesh S, Nayak UA, Reddy V, Rao AP. The Comparative Evaluation of the Effects of Tongue Cleaning on Existing Plaque Levels in Children. Int J Clin Pediatr Dent 2013;6(3):188-192.




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