Staying Healthy

Can tongue scraping improve bad breath?

Ask the doctors

By , Editor in Chief, Harvard Women's Health Watch; Editorial Advisory Board Member, Harvard Health Publishing; Contributor, and , Editor at Large, Harvard Women's Health Watch

photo of a woman holding her hand in front of her mouth and blowing into the hand to check her breath

Q. My friend is raving about a tool she bought to scrape her tongue, saying it makes her breath much fresher. Does tongue scraping work?

A. For someone with persistent bad breath, also known as halitosis, using a tool to scrape the tongue can indeed make a difference. Here's why: many of us build up a white or yellowish coating on our tongues consisting of food debris, bacteria, and dead skin cells. This happens when tiny bumps on the tongue called papillae — which "grab" food and help move it to the throat — trap this buildup, which develops a bad smell after bacteria settle in.

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About the Authors

photo of Toni Golen, MD

Toni Golen, MD, Editor in Chief, Harvard Women's Health Watch; Editorial Advisory Board Member, Harvard Health Publishing; Contributor

Dr. Toni Golen is a physician specializing in obstetrics and gynecology, practicing in Boston. Dr. Golen completed her residency training at George Washington University Medical Center in 1995, and is an associate professor at Harvard Medical … See Full Bio
View all posts by Toni Golen, MD
photo of Hope Ricciotti, MD

Hope Ricciotti, MD, Editor at Large, Harvard Women's Health Watch

Dr. Hope A. Ricciotti is Editor at Large of Harvard Women’s Health Watch. She is an associate professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive biology at Harvard Medical School, and leads the department of obstetrics, gynecology, and … See Full Bio
View all posts by Hope Ricciotti, MD

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