The ancient Ayurvedic recommendation of tongue scraping is one that is often overlooked. There are many benefits to this daily practice as far as oral health, and overall physical, mental, and spiritual health. Since the oral cavity is one of the main gateways between your mind/body and the environment, maintaining the health of this connection is critical to general well-being.
In the Charaka Samhita, an early Ayurvedic text, it says that by cleaning the tongue, “(this) removes foul smell, tastelessness … and by taking out dirt coated on the tongue, teeth and mouth brings relish immediately.” No doubt, people who clean their tongue on a daily basis can validate the invigorating effects this practice has. In fact, by removing the coating and stimulating the tongue this helps to balance the heavy and dulling qualities of Kapha dosha in your physiology.
Scraping the tongue daily removes any build-up on the tongue, which, if left untreated, can lead to bad breath and may house a significant number of bacteria. This simple practice is a direct way of removing Ama from your physiology. In Ayurveda, Ama refers to any accumulation of toxic residue in the mind-body. This can result from improper eating, poor digestion, or a reflection of an imbalance somewhere in the gastrointestinal system.
In addition, from an Ayurvedic perspective, by removing this coating you improve your ability to taste your food, which makes it more satisfying. By increasing your taste reception, not only do you eat less, you also eliminate the need to add more sugar, salt, or excessive spice to the food to make it more flavorful. Many of the beneficial phytonutrients and “body signals” that your food contains are first interpreted by the mind-body upon contact with receptors on the tongue. You want to improve this communication between your food and your body by removing any coating that is interfering with that connection. Also, many herbs have their beneficial effects from the initial contact with receptors on the tongue. Hence, you need a clear tongue to receive this healthy information.
Western medicine is also beginning to acknowledge coating on the tongue as a sign of poor health. According to the American Academy of Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology (AAOMP), a coated or hairy tongue is a sign of imbalance of keratin on the tongue. Under normal circumstances, the amount of keratin produced, and the amount that is “knocked off” by eating, is balanced. When the diet is too soft or the oral cavity is irritated in some way keratin can accumulate. When bacteria grow on this layer of keratin, it can lead to discoloration of the coating, which many people notice.
It’s easy to see how a healthy diet that consists of plant roughage and fiber, and where food is not overcooked or too soft, will help maintain this balance. It’s therefore important to get healthy “textured” food in your diet, such as fiber from fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains, as well as nuts and seeds. While the AAOMP does recommend tongue scraping to address this issue, they also regard the coating as “harmless.” However, when you incorporate an Ayurvedic view of health into this picture, you have an increased awareness of how this coating can ultimately affect many aspects of your physical and emotional well-being.
What Kind of Tongue Scraper to Use
The Charaka Samhita states that “tongue scrapers should be made of gold, silver, copper, tin and brass and should be non-sharp and curved, so as not to injure the tongue”. Stainless steel scrapers, which are now widely available and resist corrosion, are effective as well.
How to Scrape Your Tongue
The tongue should be gently scraped from back to front for 7 to 14 strokes. The scraper may be rinsed off between strokes if there is a lot of accumulation. Some people report stimulation of the gag reflex during scraping, which may indicate that the scraping is too aggressive. If this occurs with gentle scraping, begin slightly more forward on the tongue to avoid the gagging reflex.
A Daily Practice
From an Ayurvedic perspective, tongue scraping should be performed on a daily basis. This ancient practice helps to stimulate the internal organs through energetic connections with the rest of the body, improve digestion by increasing your sense of taste, and cleanse the body by removing Ama and bacteria from your oral cavity. In addition, it increases clarity of the mind by reducing heaviness and Ama from the head. When your physical and emotional bodies are balanced, it allows you to expand your spiritual awakening as well.
The tongue is the mirror to all the organs of the body, and thus, a daily look at the tongue prior to scraping gives you a clue to your general health. In Ayurveda, a good tongue examination is a useful way of evaluating the health of the entire body. When you examine your tongue, it’s an opportunity for self-awareness, where you can reflect on the choices of the last several days, months, or years and see how those choices have affected your health. If a thick coating is noted, you are accumulating toxicity. By noting this, it gives you the opportunity to become more self-aware and make new, healthier choices.