The bad-breath industry never tasted so sweet.
In Tinseltown, where liposuction and a facelift are sometimes as common as a teeth cleaning, tongue scraping has surfaced as the latest vanity must for the Hollywood set.
Yes, tongue scraping the brushing of the tongue with peroxide and other cleansers to root out bacteria and other material that can get trapped in the crevices and cause bad breath.
“The tongue can be like a shag carpet that’s dirty,” said Dr. Douglas S. Hauck, a Beverly Hills dentist who charges $150 for the full treatment including exam, treatment and a take-home tongue-cleaning kit.
Hauck’s patients include Uma Thurman, Forest Whitaker, Courtney Love and Bob Dylan, but the dentist said that more and more everyday folk are asking about the service.
Many of his patients, including directors, talent agents and producers, feel that they may be held back in their careers because of an unpleasant mouth, Hauck said.
“I’ve had actresses come in and say, ‘I’m sure I didn’t get that part because of my bad breath,’ ” he said.
Fueling the tongue-scraping trend are hundreds of bad-breath clinics that have cropped up around the country in recent years. Just under two years ago, UCLA opened the Fresh Breath Oral Medicine Group on its Westwood campus for the treatment of halitosis.
“People are aware now that they have to take care of their tongue,” said Dr. Diana Messadi, an associate professor at UCLA School of Dentistry and director at Fresh Breath Oral Medicine Group. “(Tongue scraping) is definitely more popular.”
The clinic is part of the UCLA School of Dentistry’s Oral Facial Pain & Medicine Clinic. For $300, patients get three treatments including medical history review, special mouthwashes, toothpastes and tongue scrapers.
“We have an 80 percent success rate,” says Messadi.
A tongue scraper is a flexible plastic or metal strip with sawlike notches on the end. It’s bent into a “U” shape and brushed along the tongue, and sells for about $3 at drug stores.
Although people can scrape their tongues themselves, Messadi said many prefer to have a dentist perform the service especially the first time, so they can get a feel for how it is done.
“Some people don’t like to do it because they gag,” she said.
More important for first-timers, Hauck says, is figuring out if the bad breath is actually coming from the tongue and not from gum disease or more serious health problems.
“We do a patient exam first to rule out anything else,” said Hauck.
A small percentage of cases have a medical cause, like kidney disease or diabetes. Hauck will urge a patient to see a medical doctor if he suspects a health problem.
If all else is ruled out, Hauck asks his patients to breathe into a “halimeter,” a machine that resembles a breathalyzer and reads the percentage of sulfur buildup on the tongue.
Halitosis, or bad breath, is caused by sulfuric gases emitted by bacteria that sits on the surface of the tongue. A normal sulfur reading is about 65; anything over 100 means it’s time for a tongue bath.
“A reading over 100 means there’s something brewing,” Hauck said.
The entire procedure, from sulfur reading to scraping, takes about 40 minutes.
First, Hauck makes a tongue lasso with a paper loop and tongue-ties the patient to keep him still. The tongue, which is vacuumed before the cleansing, is then brushed on the surface with the scraper.
Hauck concedes that the popularity of tongue scraping with celebrities could make it seem like a passing fad, but he doesn’t think it will go away. In fact, he has recently patented “Best Breath,” a tongue-scraping kit that he plans to have on the market in six months.
Hauck says less than 10 percent of his revenues come from tongue cleaning, but Messadi believes that tongue scrapers will eventually sit on people’s shelves next to toothbrushes and dental floss.
“It’s a very important thing,” says Messadi. “A long time ago people were not flossing, now they do. I think tongue scraping will be the same thing.”