In all its long and grimy history, tongue scraping has reduced but not fixed halitosis
Tongue cleaners and scrapers have been around for quite some time, and while many dental health experts recommend them for patients with bad breath, the implements may not be totally effective if used without brushing or rinsing. Studies have shown that tongue scraping puts a small but noticeable dent in halitosis.
Recently, an article published by LiveScience noted that scraping or cleaning one's tongue daily may reduce oral odor. The writer of the piece, Christopher Wanjek, is also the author of books like Bad Medicine, a volume on hygienic misconceptions perpetuated by assumptions, word of mouth and the tricks of hucksters.
The article states that tongue scraping has been a practice for thousands of years. It started when Indians who practiced ayurveda - a traditional medicine of the Indian sub-continent - scraped their tongues every morning as part of an elaborate cleansing ritual.
This is not a bad idea, even today. Morning breath is a serious problem for countless Americans, many of whom get it from sleeping with their mouths open. However, simply scraping the top of the tongue may reduce bad breath, but it will never fix the problem.
Ancient tongue scraping devices have been unearthed in India, Africa, South America and the Middle East, according to an article in the Journal of the American Dental Association (JADA).
In medieval Japan, tongue scraping often accompanied the practice of ohaguro, or staining one's teeth black with iron filings. According to Angus Trumble in A Brief History of the Smile, it's no wonder they cleaned their tongues. The bitter taste of iron probably overpowered the flavors of food.
During the Renaissance and the Victorian Era, upper class individuals often scraped their tongues with elaborate instruments made of bone or silver, the JADA article states. It wasn't until the 20th century, though, that tongue cleaning became a popular Western practice, it adds.
Today, plastic tongue scrapers can be purchased at any drug store. But do they work? Do they really get rid halitosis? Studies are divided. Some research suggests that the majority of bad breath goes away after tongue cleaning.
The study measured levels of volatile sulfur compounds on the breath before and after scraping of the tongue. Its authors found that both practices reduced around 40 percent of the odorous molecules, compared to brushing's 33 percent.
In addition to using a tongue scraper daily, individuals with halitosis may simply gargle with a specialty breath freshening rinse to neutralize oral odor.