Dear Dr. Levister: My breath smells bad. My dentist says this is partly due to sinus drainage coating my tongue. Will a tongue scraper help? L.K.
Dear L.K.: Bad breath is a common problem for many people, given the wide variety of substances traveling through our mouths daily. Some people avoid offensive foods and drinks, chew gum, use mouth rinses, or eat mints to mask unpleasant odor. Others cannot escape bad breath quite so easily.
At least 40 million Americans suffer from halitosis. Unfortunately, there is no standard treatment for it. Halitosis is a term used to describe any disagreeable odor of expired air. Bad breath is a generally accepted term for foul smells emanating from the mouth. Oral malodor is a term reserved for unpleasant smells originating from the oral cavity.
Using a tongue scraper to brush the tongue, rather than using a toothbrush to scrape the tongue is often effective in relieving oral malodor caused by sinus drainage.
Data from clinical trials suggests that a tongue cleaner/scraper demonstrated a significant difference in reducing volatile sulfur compounds (VSC) levels, which are produced when bacteria and amino acids interact to produce bad breath.
Bacteria-causing halitosis can be reduced by brushing or scraping the middle and back of the tongue. Tongue scraping can lower VSC concentration, subsequently reducing oral malodor. However, that reduction is only short-term, and not an absolute solution for eliminating malodor.
More study is necessary to determine what role undetected odorants may play in oral malodor, as well as more well designed, randomized clinical trials to compare the effectiveness of tongue scrapers, toothbrushes, and mouth rinses on reducing VSC levels.
Despite the limited impact on bad breath, dental experts feel tongue scrapers are a good tool for the short-term. Tongue scrapers are available in most drugstores in various shapes and sizes. You put the tongue scraper at the back of your tongue and bring it forward along your tongue, repeating as often as needed.
Although there's no harm in trying a tongue scraper to treat bad breath, it's probably more effective to practice good dental hygiene overall: Brush your teeth and tongue after you eat; Floss your teeth at least once a day; Drink plenty of water to prevent dry mouth, a cause of bad breath; Schedule regular dental checkups.
If bad breath persists, consult your dentist. He or she can identify the cause and help develop a treatment plan.
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