The tongue is a unique organ. Lying between the interior world and the exterior world, it has a direct connection to the digestive system, especially the stomach, small intestine, and large intestine. It is a map and diagnostic tool that can be used to find imbalances and discover constitutional makeup. The tongue is an incredible sense organ, detecting the taste of all the nourishment we take in. Through this sensory organ, the body judges the appropriate tastes and qualities to be consumed, thus protecting and aiding the body’s ability to maintain its unique state of balance.
In Ayurveda, to have balanced nutrition, all six tastes—sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter, and astringent—should be present in every meal. These tastes set the foundation for deep nourishment in all of our tissues. Different parts of the tongue are responsible for supporting the digestion of each of these tastes. Taste signals from various areas of the tongue are picked up by nerve fibers from one of four cranial nerves, and these impulses travel to the brain, beginning the digestive process and getting the digestive organs ready to process the food.
Tongue Cleaning and Healthy Digestion
The vibrancy of agni (the digestive fire) and the quality of the blood depends on the strength of the digestive fire to extract the essence or nutrients from ingested foods. Ama is a heavy and sticky substance that is formed through poor dietary habits and low digestive fire. Over time, ama tends to accumulate in the system and block the channels of the body, causing a variety of conditions. The tongue is one of the first stages of this process, and keeping a clean, healthy tongue is vital for the digestive process to work to its fullest and keep ama at bay.
Oral health in general is incredibly important. Since our tongue plays an essential role in digestion, the better it is taken care of, the more we are creating an environment for healthy agni. Agni is responsible for transforming the foods we ingest into useful biological substances and, according to Ayurveda, is the key to living a long and healthy life. If agni is impaired, discontentment and disease have the opportunity to flourish. In short, when agni is compromised, ama accumulates, and our bodies suffer.
Starting the Day Off Right
Ayurveda has a few standard suggestions to help with oral and tongue health. It is a common practice in Ayurveda to cleanse the mouth first thing in the morning upon waking. When we sleep, our digestive system remains awake, removing toxins from our body by depositing them onto the surface of our tongue. Using a tongue cleaner to scrape off this accumulated coating goes beyond the simple benefits of oral hygiene.
Kick-Starting the Internal Processes
So what happens when you clean your tongue? The tongue is the first line of defense for our immune system. Scraping the tongue prevents toxins from being reabsorbed into the body and boosts overall immune functions. In Ayurveda, the root of all disease starts with impaired digestion, poor agni, and ama build up. Tongue scraping first thing in the morning is a strategic way to kick-start the digestive process by stimulating the taste buds.
Having a healthy bowel movement in the morning is one of Ayurveda’s indications of overall health.
Healthy Teeth and Gums
Tongue cleaning is a simple practice and should be done even before brushing your teeth. Many studies show that this practice also reduces the bacteria in your mouth that can compromise gum and teeth health. Scraping also helps with bad breath by changing the environment in your mouth to minimize putrefaction, and it is noted that tongue scraping greatly outperforms tooth brushing for accomplishing this.
Removing Toxins to Improve Taste
Almost half of our oral bacteria live on and in the crevices of our tongue. The scraping action of a tongue cleaner collects these toxic tongue coatings (which can range in color from clear, white, yellow, or green) and removes them from the body. If this coating isn’t removed, taste buds can become blocked, leading to false cravings and the inability to recognize the six tastes, which affects digestion and causes the build-up of ama.
How to Use a Tongue Cleaner
This Ayurvedic daily routine for maintaining oral health, strong agni, and reducing ama, is most beneficial when done on a regular basis. It is best practiced first thing upon rising in the morning and on an empty stomach. A tongue cleaner is a long, thin, flat piece of metal that is bent in a "U" shape. To use, stand in front of a mirror and stick out your tongue. Place the scraper as far back on your tongue as possible, and holding the two ends of the scraper in both hands, pull it toward the tip of the tongue. With a firm but gentle pressure, scrape the surface of your tongue in one long stroke. Rinse the scraper and repeat until your tongue feels clean and is free of coating (usually 5–10 times).
After cleaning your tongue, rinse your mouth with warm water. Follow by drinking a glass of warm lemon water, which will flush the system and provide additional support to waking up the digestive system.
Oil pulling is another Ayurvedic practice that supports oral health and works hand-in-hand with tongue cleaning. If you are interested in learning more about this practice, this resource has information on oil pulling.
In general, a balanced life is key to health and well-being. And a healthy mouth and good oral hygiene practices, along with the proper diet, exercise, and daily routines that support who you are Ayurvedically, will support complete health, both mentally and physically.