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There’s a lot of lip service given to the teeth, and for good reason. But if it’s a healthy mouth you’re after, there’s a key component that’s practically staring you in the face: your tongue.

It’s one of the most underappreciated muscles in the body — especially considering all it does, from helping with speech to allowing you to taste delicious things like pizza to actually keeping your mouth clean by constantly wiping the surfaces of the teeth. Your tongue can also be behind some of the not-so-pleasant things we associate with the mouth (cough, bad breath, cough). What gives?

toothbrushes in cup on counter

Photo courtesy of @criene/Twenty20

I have patients who ask, Why do I have halitosis?’ It’s because you’ve got residue lingering back there — essentially dead cells, debris, and bacteria that gets trapped in the crevices of your tongue,” says John Koutsoyiannis, DDS, of New York City’s Soho Smile. You don’t want it to stick back there.”

That’s where a tongue scraper comes in. The small, toothbrush-sized device is usually made of either metal or plastic and helps to literally drag out that gross residue. Don’t choke yourself, but put it as far back as you can so that you can get the furthest part of the tongue, and with a firm pressure drag it forward a few times,” explains. Dr. Koutsoyiannis. From there, he says, you’ll want to spit out what you pull forward and finish things off with a swish of mouthwash. And of course, don’t forget to clean off your scraper every time you use it.

In total, it adds less than 30 seconds to your oral routine — and you don’t necessarily have to do it every single day. It depends on the bacteria back there and bad breath. Some people can do it once a week, or sporadically as needed,” says Dr. Koutsoyiannis. And that number might fluctuate according to the time of year; during winter, for example, you may want to up your scraping regimen. There are a large number of viruses that get you sick back there,” he notes, so it can’t hurt from a getting-sick perspective.”

How do you know if you should be using a tongue scraper? Bad breath is usually an indicator — that’s when patients bring it to our attention, because it affects them personally,” Dr. Koutsoyiannis says. The other thing is coloration, with that white film. A healthy tongue should be pink.” Other factors that may get you scraping: smokers, those who aren’t hitting their daily H2O goals, and mouth breathers (which affects hydration levels) are more likely to see their tongue color look off”.

Of course, a tongue scraper doesn’t mean all of your other oral habits can go out the window. (Seriously, never stop brushing and flossing your teeth!) But you should notice a difference: You’ll see some effects immediately, if indeed bad breath is coming from the back of the tongue,” says the dentist. Is scraping your teeth making you healthier? Bad breath doesn’t necessarily mean you’re not healthy, but it does mean there’s something there that could be creating a smell. And we traditionally think of a healthy mouth as something that doesn’t have a smell to it.” Smell ya later, indeed

Articles from The Natural should not be considered medical advice. If you have any questions about your health, please consult a medical professional.