The Unsung Hero Habit for Overall Health - The Oral Microbiome

Written by: Sara Treffert


Healf Journal

What is the number one disease in the world?

Most people would answer cardiovascular disease, and while it is true as the number one killer, the number one disease is tooth decay. 

According to the World Dental Federation, tooth decay is the most common noncommunicable disease worldwide, affecting up to 90% of schoolchildren and almost all adults (and I would go as far as to say that actually, it can be communicable… but that’s a topic that deserves a separate discussion). What is just as alarming, it is estimated that periodontal diseases (e.g. bleeding gums, gingivitis, etc.) may affect up to 90% of the worldwide population as well.

Why isn’t oral health a top priority for health officials and clinicians? 

It is undeniably clear that science has continued to prove the direct connection of oral health to overall systemic health.  More than 2 decade ago, studies showed that in “less than 1 min after an oral procedure [which includes brushing], organisms from the infected site may have reached the heart, lungs, and peripheral blood capillary system.”

Even the connection to infertility and adverse pregnancy outcomes have been linked to oral disbiosis, as has type 2 diabetes, severity risk of Covid, and neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s. You will be hard- pressed to find a chronic disease that isn’t linked to oral disbiosis.

Thankfully oral health is one of the easiest things to improve with little to no medical oversight. Unfortunately, mainstream recommendations such as fluoridated water, antimicrobial mouthwashes, and fluoride toothpastes (at the time of writing this article Jan 2024) are not effective solutions, and actually, are proven more harmful than helpful. 

Written by Sara Treffert, FDN-P, RMT; Culinary & Gut Health Practitioner @wholezest

Oral Health and Disease is Multifactorial

As a practitioner in the functional medicine space, I would be remiss to not mention addressing diet (and digestion), gut microbiome, proper hydration, nasal breathing, stress management, environmental factors, sleep quality, structural issues, and targeted supplementation as an integrated approach to oral (and overall) health. As you can see just in that non-exhaustive list, there are many contributin factors to oral health, however, my intention is to suggest 1 low effort, high impact habit that may jus be life changing…and it isn’t a fad!

The Unsung Health Habit—Tongue Scraping; An Ancient Practice Worth Keeping

Whether you are crushing your health goals or struggling to get a win, tongue scraping may be the easiest, quickest, and one of the cheapest, healthy habits anyone from age 2 to 122 (goals for the longevity crowd) can benefit from! Such a simple thing may sound too good to be true, but try it, and encourage others around you to do the same. No one likes smelling foul breath and our kiddos deserve a healthy mouth too! Your hygienist and dentist may even comment on your oral health improvement at your next regular checkup.

Chronic bad breath = dysbiosis and a warning sign that something is amiss. Some dental experts say tha 80%+ of bad breath can come from the buildup of food, microbes and dead cells on the tongue, especially at the back. In addition, we swallow approximately 100 billion oral microbes into the gastrointestinal tract daily, so why not make sure we are ingesting more of the good guys? Tongue scraping has been shown to dramatically reduce this toxin load and foul odours while being supportive of a balanced biome environment.

How to Tongue Scrape

I prefer an Ayurvedic copper scraper because it lasts indefinitely, is naturally antimicrobial, and doesn’t have any nooks to harbor unwanted microbes like the ones with padded handles. For travel or those who have dexterity difficulties, the single handle loop style stainless steel “Tongue Sweeper” may be easier to use. In a pinch, a spoon will do the trick, but please do not use your toothbrush bristles to brush your tongue.

  • Optimal times to scrape are upon rising and/or before bed when you are (hopefully) already doing your oral hygiene routine (ideally, tongue scrape, floss, then brush). *Note that if you wake with a dry mouth, it may be more comfortable to drink water first to hydrate before scraping.  
  • Most prefer to tongue scrape 2x per day. However, start slowly and if your gag reflex is sensitive, start scraping from the middle of the tongue forward and overtime progress to starting at the back of the tongue as you get more comfortable to do a full sweep(s). 
  • Make sure to properly rinse and dry your scraper after each use.
  • Scraping should not be painful; gentle to light pressure should be sufficient. 
    *Pro tip: scrape sides of the tongue and insides of the cheeks as well.


The mouth is one of the most overlooked areas of the body and yet is arguably one of the most important contributing factors to both health and disease. The best news is it’s never too late to improve your oral (and overall) health. You have the ability to directly improve it with simple habits at home habits like taking a few seconds to tongue scrape.  

Can you think of any more positively impactful and low effort in just seconds a day that can improve your overall health quicker? Happy tongue scraping and cheers to fresher breath and better health!


This article is for informational purposes only, even if and regardless of whether it features the advice of physicians and medical practitioners. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. The views expressed in this article are the views of the expert and do not necessarily represent the views of Healf