We all know the importance of cleaning our teeth morning and night, flossing, not over brushing and regular dental check ups. We know these daily, monthly and yearly routines are all crucial for external mouth hygiene (maintaining beautiful white teeth) but do we realize that we are also protecting our internal bodies at the same time? Cleaning our teeth is about so much more than just a few minutes after breakfast and dinner…
When we think of oral bacteria and lack of care for our teeth we automatically jump to thoughts of teeth out/bad breath/unpleasant dental work/stained teeth/reseeding gums/cavities/fillings etc purely the visual aspect but our oral health is an important window into our overall health and wellbeing.
Recent studies have shown that oral infection, especially periodontitis (a potentially deadly condition that involves inflammation and infection of gums) may affect the course and pathogens of a number of diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, alzheimer’s, diabetes, bacterial pneumonia, lung disease, low birth weight and diabetes so as we can see it massively effects our deeper organs and tissues of the body.
Ayervedic medicine traditions in particular have acknowledged this link between oral health and overall health for thousands of years more so than anywhere else in the world. India also has some of the lowest death rates from chronic inflammatory diseases; which could be a combination of the daily turmeric use and ayervedic principles! According to the Shalyatantra (just one of the branches of Ayurveda), 65 varieties of oral diseases can arise in seven anatomic locations-eight on the lips, 15 on the alveolar margin, eight in connection with the teeth, five on the tongue, nine on the palate, 17 in the oropharynx and three in a generalized form. These are huge numbers!!
For the treatment of many diseases I mentioned above, Ayurveda advocates procedures such as oral cleansing, extractions and excisions. Ayurveda recommends some daily use of therapeutic procedures for the prevention of and maintenance of oral health. These include: DantDhavani (Brushing), Jivha Lekhana (Tongue scrapping) and Gandoosha (gargling) or oil pulling.
Traditionally they will chew brush sticks in the morning first thing after oil pulling as well as after every meal to prevent diseases. I find this so fascinating because Ayurveda insists on the use of herbal brushes, approximately nine inches long and the thickness of your little finger. These herb sticks should be either astringent or bitter in taste. The method to use is to crush one end, chew it and eat it slowly. The neem is the most famous chewing stick but fresh stems of liquorice or stems from the milkweed plant can also be used for brushing instead of your average toothbrush and fluoride filled toothpaste. Chewing and sucking on these stems is believed to cause attrition and possibly help in plaque control while also having a anti bacterial action.
Present day research has shown that the chewing of these powerful herbal stems that are described in ancient Avurveda texts have medicinal and anti-cariogenic properties.
Other Ayervedic rituals that are believed to help to keep inflammation and disease at bay istongue scraping and oil pulling.
Tongue scrapping stimulates the reflex points of the tongue, removes bad odor, improves the sense of taste, stimulates the digestive enzymes and most importantly removes millions of bacteria growth (approximately 500 varieties) Clinical evidence also shows that use of tongue scrapers on a regular basis, has a significant Improvement on eliminating anaerobic bacteria and decreases bad odor.
Oil pulling is another ancient Ayurveda procedure that involves swishing oil in the mouth for oral and systemic health benefits. It is mentioned in the Avurvedic text CharakaSamhita where it is claimed to cure about 30 systemic diseases ranging from migraines to diabetes, strokes and asthma. Oil pulling has been used extensively as a traditional Indian remedy for many years to prevent decay, oral malodor, bleeding gums, dryness of throat, cracked lips and for strengthening teeth, gums and is another very powerful tool for ridding bacteria. So can these ancient daily rituals really help in decreasing our risk for deathly chronic diseases? It would seem they definetly can along with a healthy well balanced plant focused diet, exercise, and little stress!