Oral health is sometimes overlooked as an important part of overall health and well-being. We were all taught as children to brush and floss three times a day, but how many people actually do that? Most Americans brush twice a day: once in the morning and once before bed. Maintaining healthy teeth affects the overall health of the physical body. An overgrowth of bacteria in the mouth and inflammation of the gums (Periodontitis) can be indicators of other diseases manifesting in the body. Research has show there is a link between periodontal disease and cardiovascular disease. It is therefore in your best interest to maintain healthy teeth and gums. So how do we manage that without introducing harmful chemicals into our bodies through commercial toothpastes and oral care products?
First, good overall health and wellness begins with a balanced diet of natural foods and plenty of water. What we ingest becomes a part of us, so focusing on the inside out is the first step. Avoid all artificial flavors and colors, GMOs, and refined sugars. Avoid foods fraught with herbicides and preservatives or animal protein (both meat and dairy) from factory-farmed animals or farm-raised fish. The healthiest diet consists of whole foods, organic vegetables and fruits, healthy fats and whole grains. Eat a balanced diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and quality proteins. Drink water with your food, and swish with water after every meal to rinse away food debris before it can begin to decay in your mouth.
Second, but still highly important, is proper care of teeth and gums. This can be highly personalized, but it cannot be neglected. Neglected teeth are lost teeth. In this article we will focus on a daily practice of oral hygiene from a natural perspective.
A daily oral hygiene practice is an opportunity to introduce mindfulness into our day. We may be zombies in the morning, and already focused on what we need to do at work or in the home, but a mindful morning routine has many benefits. Mindfulness in general brings our focus to the present, not the past and not the future, allowing us to be fully present in the moment. Why does that matter? Being mindful increases our ability to focus, which helps with productivity. It helps us to regulate emotions, decrease stress, anxiety and depression by increasing the ability to objectively observe our thoughts and feelings. The overall result is that we become more present in our day-to-day lives and in the lives of others, enabling us to make wise decisions, responsibly manage our emotions and be more fully engaged in life.
For super busy people, the idea of devoting even a few minutes a day to self care can feel like an unnecessary luxury, but it is in fact a necessity. If you don’t take care of yourself, burning the candle at both ends, they you may find your body finally relinquishes, attempting to get its much needed rest and rejuvenation by making you sick. Illness in many cases is the body’s way of forcing you to rest. If you treat yourself with love and care from the get-go, you can avoid an unexpected and potentially lengthy sabbatical from your work and family. In reality, we must take care of ourselves, so that we can in turn effectively take care of those in our charge and those we choose to serve. Self care reduces burnout, reduces the negative effects of stress, and helps us to refocus. A good daily oral hygiene practice is mindful self care.
Your mindful daily oral hygiene practice does not need to have five thousand steps. I recommend three main actions: tongue scraping, oil pulling and regular tooth brushing/flossing, in that order. That sounds pretty reasonable, doesn’t it?
Step 1: Tongue Scraping
Tongue scraping is an oral hygiene practice that removes bacteria, toxins, and dead cells from the surface of the tongue. Its practice originated over 3,000 years ago in ancient India, where is it known as Jihwa Prakshalana, but it is gaining in popularity today due to its positive health benefits. At night, while we sleep, our bodies continue the process of removing toxins from the body, and some are deposited onto the surface of our tongue. These toxins need to be removed, so they do not proliferate with bacteria or get reabsorbed by the body.
Scraping your tongue removes toxins and bacteria that lead to bad morning breath. It helps to stimulate the digestive system by activating saliva production and promoting the body’s digestive fire (agni) to help with digestion throughout the day. And with a clean tongue, the flavors of your food are brighter, thus reducing the need for excess sugar and salt added to intensify flavors.
Scraping your tongue is not the same as brushing your tongue with your toothbrush. Research has shown that a tongue scraper is more effective at removing toxins and bacteria from the tongue than a toothbrush. A tongue scraper is a long, thin, flat piece of metal that is bent in a “U” shape. You effectively scrape your tongue by placing the scraper as far back on your tongue as comfortable and with firm but gentle pressure, scrape the surface of your tongue toward the tip in one long stroke. Rinse the scraper and repeat 5 to 10 times.
Step 2: Oil Pulling
Oil pulling is the practice of swishing one or two teaspoons of oil (usually sesame, coconut or sunflower oil) in your mouth for five to twenty minutes and then spitting it out. This is another ancient practice that has been around more than 3,000 years, which has given us ample time to study the longitudinal effects of it both through observation as well as scientifically.
Step 3: Toothbrushing/Flossing
Brush and floss as usual, but before you continue, consider your current brushing habits.
Do you brush too hard? If you see blood in your expelled toothpaste, you probably are brushing too hard or have a toothbrush that has harder bristles. Hard brushing and hard toothbrushes can strip the enamel from your teeth and damage your gums. Use circular motions to brush teeth and gums.
And what about toothpaste? There are so many choices at the store, and some are natural. Unfortunately many commercial toothpastes include saccharine or aspartame to artificially sweeten the flavor, artificial dyes, sodium lauryl sufate, and/or triclosan. And vegans beware, many commercial toothpastes contain glycerin derived from bone marrow of animals. Vegan or not, brushing your teeth with animal bone marrow is revolting. Recent dental research has also indicated that glycerin demineralizes your teeth. Look for the animal-friendly rabbit logo on any toothpaste you buy, if you want to avoid animal-derived glycerin.
OR try making your own, glycerin-free toothpaste in about five minutes. It’s quick, simple, MUCH cheaper, and you control the ingredients. Following is a simple recipe.
Simple Homemade Toothpaste
- 2/3 cup baking soda
- 1 tsp fine sea salt (optional)
- 1 – 2 tsp peppermint extract or 10-15 drops peppermint essential oil (or whichever flavor you like: cinnamon, spearmint, clove, etc.)
- Filtered water (add to desired consistency)
Yield: 5.3oz or the same size of a normal tube of toothpaste.
Mix together baking soda, optional salt, and peppermint. Add a little water at a time, stirring until desired consistency is reached. Store in a glass jar near your toothbrush. To use, simply wet your toothbrush and scoop up some paste or apply with a small spoon.
Optionally you can add verbalized neem oil to the paste. Studies indicate that neem has antimicrobial properties that when used orally significantly reduces plaque and resulting gingivitis. Neem is a tree in the mahogany family that is native to Asia. It has been used medicinally for over 4,500 years, so its track record is pretty strong. Add 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoons of neem powder to the above recipe as desired.
What is your current oral health routine or biggest oral health challenge? Share below!
Diana T. Moore, Ph.D., RYT 500
Dr. Moore is a yoga teacher, Ayurvedic Yoga Specialist and certified holistic nutrition consultant with over 16 years of experience as a holistic health practitioner.