Cleaner tongues

January 10, 1999|By Megan Kennedy | Megan Kennedy,Special to the Sun

Here's another one for the "what to get the person who has everything" list: etc -- the world's first electric tongue scraper. Wait -- this is serious.

The American Dental Association recommends daily tongue cleaning as a necessary part of home oral hygiene. "Cleaning the tongue once a day, in conjunction with dental products containing chlorine dioxide, is the best way to combat bad breath," says Baltimore dentist Robert A. Jacobson.

Although tongue scrapers have been on the market since 1951, the Oralgiene company has developed the first electric tongue cleaner. With the help of one AAA battery, etc vibrates bacteria out of tongue crevices without applying the pressure that makes hand models uncomfortable to use. And, the company says, the contoured plastic tip helps clean hard-to-reach areas at the back of the tongue without inducing the gag reflex -- a problem of manual instruments.

And tongue-scraper makers argue that simply cleaning the tongue with a toothbrush merely loosens the bacteria without removing it.

Although tongue scraping may sound like oral-hygiene overkill, there are medical benefits: Aside from attacking bad breath, the American Dental Association says tongue cleaning helps reduce the plaque-forming bacteria that leads to tooth decay, periodontal disease and a decreased sense of taste.

The tongue is a rough surface with numerous crevices that serve as home to billions of bacteria. When we eat, leftover debris from food, bacteria and mucus produce a white/gray coating. The bacteria emit hydrogen sulfide -- the culprit in bad breath. Oralgiene says 80 percent of breath odor originates from the bacteria stuck at the back of the tongue.

Tongue scrapers have been around for centuries -- not only did the Romans use them, but Europeans also cleaned their tongues in the 1700s and 1800s. "In Pakistan, tongue scrapers are common in every drugstore," says Ben Z. Swanson Jr., executive director of the National Museum of Dentistry in Baltimore and co-author of an article titled "Oral hygiene: a history of tongue scraping and brushing."

But, Swanson says, the practice is little appreciated or used by the American public -- 75 percent of Americans do not scrape their tongues.

Oralgiene predicts a revival in tongue-care interest. Tongue cleaning does make a difference, says Jacobson, but as for the need for an electric cleaner, he isn't so sure: "I think it is an interesting appliance, but I'm not yet convinced that it works any better than the manual tongue cleaners."

Oralgiene's etc is available at Sharper Image for $30, through Brookstone catalog service or at 800-933-ORAL.

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