The Ayurvedic Approach to Oral Health

Did you know that the ancient Ayurvedic text, the Caraka Samhita, written in 400-200 BCE, divided Ayurvedic medicine into 8 classical branches? From surgical methods and pediatrics to internal medicine and treatments to heal mental health issues, Ayurveda, India’s traditional medical system was certainly ahead of its time. Housed within the branch of surgery, among other things, are insights into the field of dentistry. From treating tooth infections, plaque and oral deformities to teaching about preventative care, Ayurveda shares various insights on how to keep the teeth, gums and oral cavity healthy. 

Thankfully, the tradition of Ayurveda is alive and well today, with its knowledge being spread throughout the world. There are so many transformative practices and philosophical insights to absorb from this 5,000 year old medicine, including how we can take our oral hygiene game beyond simply brushing and flossing. We hope these simple Ayurvedic practices help to keep your pearly whites, gums and mouth supported in between dental visits and that they also help you build a deeper connection with your commitment to self-care. 


Ayurvedic Anatomy & Physiology of the Mouth

According to Ayurveda, the physiology of a human being is governed by the 3 doshas- vata, pitta and kapha. Vata dosha is responsible for all movement in the body and mind, from the downward moving energy necessary for a bowel movement, to nerve impulses, to the circulation of blood and the movement of thoughts and emotions. Pitta dosha is the force of transformation. It is the energy needed to digest, absorb and assimilate nutrients in the gastrointestinal tract, to the way eyes take in light and convert it into images, to the way we stay committed to following through on projects. Kapha dosha is our stability. It provides structure through the skeletal system, lubricates the joints and mucus membranes of the body and enables us to offer love and compassion to ourselves and others. 

The 3 doshas are also present within the mouth and perform different functions to maintain oral health. For instance, one of the subdoshas of kapha is called bodhaka kapha. Bodhaka kapha moistens the mucus membranes of the mouth and its physical form is saliva. Saliva is necessary for the sense of taste to happen. In fact salivary amylase, produced by salivary glands, initiates digestion as soon as a bite of food enters the mouth. Salivary amylase begins to break down starches into smaller molecules, which makes digestion and assimilation of food more easeful for the small intestine. Bodhaka kapha also helps to prevent cavities by washing away bits of food and reduces the effects of acidic foods on teeth enamel. 

Within the mouth, kapha dosha is also found within the teeth, as they are bones which are a part of our skeletal system. Interestingly, vata dosha is also found within the pores of the bones and hence the pores of teeth. Vata dosha is also required for the biting, chewing and swallowing of food. Finally, pitta dosha is present within the blood vessels which nourish and protect the gum tissue. 


How a Healthy Mouth = A Healthy Body

Ayurveda understands and teaches that the root cause of all disease is improper digestion. When we eat processed, sugary, refined foods and do not treat the preparation and eating of food as a sacred ritual (sadhana), disease begins to take root in the body. Thus, eating prana-rich, fresh foods prepared in a loving way is crucial for a healthy body and mind. (Click here to learn more about the Ayurvedic Guidelines for Healthy Eating). Another component to optimal digestion is a healthy mouth! When our bodhaka kapha (saliva) is balanced, our teeth stay clean, our gums stay healthy and digestion is enhanced. Lastly, it’s important to understand that what we eat becomes the building blocks for the tissues of our bodies. Thus, when we eat wholesome foods and practice proper oral hygiene daily, we give ourselves the gift of optimal health, and also a fetching smile!


How to Keep Bodhaka Kapha Balanced

If you experience dry mouth, you are experiencing a deficiency in bodhaka kapha. When this occurs, digestion is impaired, acidity can wreak havoc on your teeth enamel, plaque can more readily build and gum infections can occur (think bleeding gums). Over time, a deficiency in bodhaka kapha can lead to receding gums, infections, tooth decay and tooth loss. Here are some tips and Ayurvedic practices to help restore bodhaka kapha:

  • No smoking! 
  • Reduce and/or eliminate acidic beverages like coffee and alcohol.
  • Decrease sugar intake.
  • Breathe through your nose, not your mouth. 
  • Invest in a humidifier for your home.
  • Stay hydrated by drinking at least half of your body weight in ounces of water daily. 
  • Enjoy demulcent (moisturizing) herbs in the form of a herbal tea (try our Hydrate Blend!).
  • Say no to alcohol based mouthwash!
  • Oil pull in the AM.

Ayurvedic Dinacharya (Rituals) for Oral Health

Dinacharya are self-care practices or rituals you can incorporate into your day in order to create harmony within your body and mind. These practices help us all stay in a healthy, regular routine and inspire us to commit to daily self-care. When we commit to dinacharya, we invest  in self-love and long-term, abundant health. Let’s explore specific oral care dinacharya we can do to keep our mouths and oral biome happy!


Morning Oral Care Dinacharya

Tongue Cleaning

Tongue cleaning, also known as tongue scraping, is the first thing you should do upon waking, even before you take a sip of water. Why might you ask? While you sleep your entire body and mind goes through detoxification, relaxation and repair processes. For example, your pituitary gland releases hormones which help your body cleanse itself, your sympathetic (fight or flight) nervous system chills out and your immune system has a chance to strengthen. During these important processes, your body expels ama. Ama is the Sanskrit term for toxins. 

When we arise in the morning, toxins are eliminated from the body through urination and excretion. Another way we can rid our body of accumulated ama is through the Ayurvedic practice of tongue cleaning. You can see the accumulation of ama in the back of your tongue when you wake up in the morning by going to your bathroom mirror and extending your tongue out of your mouth. You will most likely see a coating on the back of your tongue- ama! Ama can lead to poor digestion, bad breath and build up of harmful bacteria in your mouth. However, when you incorporate tongue cleaning into your morning dinacharya, you help the body in its natural detoxification process. 


Benefits of Tongue Cleaning

  • Expels ama (toxic residue).
  • Freshens breath.
  • Improves sense of taste.
  • Assists in healthy, optimal digestion.
  • Stimulates the large intestine (prepares the body for excretion/elimination).
  • Eradicates harmful bacteria from your mouth.
  • Invigorates the senses. 

Which Tongue Cleaner is Best to Use?

A tongue cleaner is a u-shaped device with smooth edges that works to gently scrape ama off of the tongue and out of the mouth. Traditionally, Ayurveda recommends using a Copper Tongue Cleaner because copper has natural antibacterial properties. A stainless steel tongue cleaner works well too but we LOVE the feeling of tongue cleaning with our 100% Copper Tongue Cleaner. Besides, Ayurveda has been recommending tongue cleaning with copper for thousands of years- who are we to mess with this powerful, health-enhancing, ancient tradition?!

 

But can’t I just use my toothbrush?

This is a common question. The short answer is that once you use a copper tongue cleaner, the answer to this question will become crystal clear! A tongue cleaner gets your tongue (and mouth) to a whole new level of clean. Tongue cleaners have a more efficient scraping action- you can literally feel and see the ama being swept off of your tongue.


How to Tongue Clean/Scrape

This daily ritual is best done first thing in the morning, prior to eating or drinking. Hold the tongue cleaner on either side. Extend the tongue out of the mouth and inspect for a coating. Place the tongue cleaner towards the back of the tongue and gently scrape the ama or film forward and out of the mouth. Wash the ama off of the tongue cleaner and repeat until the tongue is clean. Follow with PAAVANI Pulling Oil.

*If you are new to tongue cleaning, we recommend that you apply a very light pressure the first few times that you tongue scrape. You want to be very gentle because your tongue and taste buds need to acclimate to this new practice. Over time, you can apply a firmer pressure.


How to Clean your Copper Tongue Cleaner

There are a few different ways to clean your tongue cleaner. One is super simple- just rinse off your tongue cleaner with warm water and all natural soap. Wipe dry with a soft cloth. Now, when you really want to buff and shine your tongue cleaner, we recommend taking ¼ slice of lemon and dipping it into pure Himalayan salt. From one end to the other, clean your tongue cleaner with the salt dipped lemon wedge. This will help eradicate any hard to remove plaque from the tongue cleaner as well as restore the beauty of the copper. 


Oil Pulling

You may have already heard of oil pulling, as it has become a health trend in the United States. Yet, although many people are oil pulling, they may be unaware of the fact that this oral care practice has its roots in Ayurveda. Known in Sanskrit as Kavala Graha or Gandusha, oil pulling is the ritual of pulling or swishing oil through the teeth for twenty minutes to support overall oral health and hygiene. This practice is suggested to be practiced every morning after tongue cleaning. 


Benefits of Oil Pulling 

  • Draws out ama (toxins/impurities).
  • Strengthens the gums.
  • Eradicates plaque.
  • Rebuilds enamel.
  • Whitens the teeth.
  • Eliminates harmful bacteria. 
  • Reduces inflammation.
  • Freshens the breath. 
  • Restores bodhaka kapha.
  • Reduces symptoms associated with TMJ. 

What is in Pulling Oil?

Many people enjoy the use of  coconut oil as their pulling oil staple and we are in full support of this method, as coconut oil is easy to find, has a pleasant taste and has antibacterial and antifungal properties. We also highly recommend sesame oil. Sesame oil is the traditional Ayurvedic pulling oil due to its antibacterial, rejuvenative and highly nourishing properties. 

Ayurvedic medicine also infuses turmeric and other beneficial herbs into pulling oil to increase its potency. At PAAVANI, we honor the traditions of the old and the new, by infusing whole herbs into sesame and coconut oil in order to ensure the most effective pulling oil experience. 

Here are a few key ingredients in our PAAVANI Pulling Oil:


Sesame Oil

We use sesame seeds grown and cold pressed in India to ensure that our sesame oil is authentic, pure and in line with Ayurvedic tradition. Sesame oil is known in Ayurveda as the “King of Oils” & is the most used oil throughout this medical system. It is a rejuvenative tonic for the hair, skin, nervous system, teeth & gums. Sesame oil has antibacterial properties which help keep the mouth clean and healthy and it also nourishes the gum line. Sesame oil has been used traditionally for oil pulling for thousands of years to reverse receding gums and support overall oral health.


Coconut Oil

Kalpavriksha is the Sanskrit term for coconut, it literally translates to the “tree of life” or “the tree that meets all life’s needs”. You can eat it, use it topically, drink it, improve brain function, its uses are endless! In our Pulling Oil, coconut oil facilitates absorption of calcium which helps in developing strong teeth. It also helps with tooth decay due to its antifungal action. Coconut oil contains the fatty acid, lauric acid, which has antimicrobial properties; thus, it aids in reducing harmful bacteria in the mouth and reduces plaque. Using coconut oil for oil pulling is a beneficial way to keep the gums healthy, teeth white and eliminate bad breath. 


Turmeric 

The main active ingredient in turmeric, curcumin, provides antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, astringent and antioxidant properties to your dental care routine. The Journal of Contemporary Dental Practice confirmed what Ayurveda has known for thousands of years, that turmeric is a powerful ally to counterbalance signs and symptoms of plaque build up and gingivitis. Other Western scientific studies have also proved that turmeric also helps to reduce pain associated with toothache or any dental pain. Ayurveda also explains that turmeric can in fact help whiten the teeth! It’s true, that gorgeous golden color may leave a yellowish stain on your fingers or clothes, but it actually helps to whiten and brighten the teeth. 


Amalaki

Also known as amla, this Ayurvedic herb is actually the fruit of the Amalaki tree and it contains abundant healing properties. There is roughly 600-700 mg of Vitamin C per amalaki fruit- that is more than an orange! Furthermore, this fruit is an excellent ally to help boost the immune system. Also, amalaki has been used for thousands of years in Ayurvedic medicine to heal gingivitis and periodontitis. It also helps to eliminate harmful bacteria in the mouth, regenerate gum tissue and promote fresh breath.  


Clove

Did you know that our mouths have over 700 types of bacteria within them? Some of the bacteria is beneficial while others are harmful. Rather than stripping away all of the bacteria, like synthetic mouthwashes do, clove uses its intuitive wisdom to maintain good bacteria for a healthy mouth biome while eradicating harmful bacteria, including Helicobacter pylori bacteria that promotes stomach ulcers. Eugenol, a main active component in clove, gives this fragrant herb its analgesic and anesthetic properties. In short, clove is excellent for relieving pain associated with toothache and inflammation while also maintaining overall oral hygiene.  


How to Oil Pull

Vigorously swish and pull 1-2 tsp. of oil around the mouth and in-between the teeth. Continue for 5 to 20 minutes. When complete, discard the oil into the trash can. Do NOT spit it into the sink as it will eventually clog your pipes. Also, definitely do NOT swallow the oil. Remember, you are working to draw ama, or toxins, out of the body; thus, ingesting everything you just oil pulled out is counterintuitive. 


How Long to Oil Pull

Ayurveda explains that, for best results, one should oil pull for 20 minutes daily. We know what you’re thinking- “Twenty minutes, who has time to do that?!”. Yet, if you think about it, there are many things that you can do to get ready for your day all while oil pulling. Here are some suggestions: wash the dishes, unload the dishwasher, prepare your tea or warm water, take a shower, make your bed, pick your clothes out for the day, prep that afternoon protein shake...you get the gist. Ayurveda isn’t one to advocate for multitasking, but we think it’s more than okay to get some other things done as you oil pull. Furthermore, get creative and see how you can fit this into your morning routine.


Clean Teeth & Gums

Brush & Floss

We figure you probably already have these two practices down! Toothbrushes have really come a long way and we recommend investing in an electric toothbrush like Philips Sonicare or Oral-B for best results. Flossing is also critical for oral care as it can reach places your toothbrush cannot. Flossing effectively removes plaque and debris that builds up along the gum line and in between teeth; thus, if you skip daily flossing, you are missing the opportunity to remedy things like tooth decay and gingivitis. Now, typically floss comes in a little plastic box, but, in order to be more eco-conscious, we suggest opting for biodegradable floss that is packaged in an eco friendly glass jar and stainless steel that is refillable, like what you find at Lucky Teeth

Photo by Taryn Elliott from Pexels

 

Massage the Gums with Oil 

This practice is an excellent way to increase blood flow to your gum tissue. When you increase blood flow to the gums, nutrients are brought to the gum tissue as well as oxygen. When the gum tissue has access to more oxygen, harmful bacteria, which thrives in an anaerobic environment (an environment with little to no oxygen), can be eradicated. Also, according to Venyo Dentistry, massaging the gums daily with oil strengthens gum epithelium. Gum epithelium is the outermost layer of gum tissue that is most exposed to bacteria. When this epithelium is strengthened, it becomes more difficult for gum infections to occur. Lastly, gum massage can help remove any food or debris that your toothbrush, floss or oil pulling missed. 


Which Oil is Best for Gum Massage?

You might have guessed it, sesame oil! Ayurveda believes sesame oil is the most effective oil to use for gum massage thanks to its antibacterial and nourishing properties. Since our PAAVANI Pulling Oil contains this wonderfully beneficial oil, we think it is a perfect oil to use for gum massage. 


How to Gum Massage

Simply put several drops of sesame or PAAVANI Pulling Oil on the tip of your clean index finger. Working from the top left corner of your mouth, beginning above the molars, place the index finger on the gums. With firm pressure, work in a circular, clockwise motion massaging the gum line. Slowly slide your finger as you massage the gums, until you end up at the top right corner of your mouth, above the right back molars. Repeat this process on the bottom gum line. Remember to expel the oil out and into your trash bin. Rinse your mouth with warm water to complete your gum massage.  


Daytime Oral Care Dinacharya  

Chew Sticks

If you do not have access to a toothbrush during the day, after each meal you can utilize the Ayurvedic practice of using chew sticks. This practice was mentioned in Ayurveda as far back as 200 B.C.E. and medical research has shown that chew sticks help with plaque control and provide antibacterial and antifungal actions. Chew sticks also have the added benefits of helping smokers quit their harmful ritual of having a cigarette after meals. The company, Dale Audrey, offers traditional Ayurvedic chew sticks. The method of use is to crush one end and chew on the stick. Also popular today is a toothpick, like Auromere’s Ayurvedic Toothpick, that is dipped in herbs like neem and peppermint  and delivers these antibacterial herbs to the gum line. 


Stay Hydrated

We mentioned this already in regards to keeping bodhaka kapha in balance; however, this practice is so important, we need to  talk about it a second time. Staying hydrated not only improves the health of the mouth, it ensures proper organ functioning, regulates body temperature, lubricates the joints and keeps your skin radiant. Take hydration a step further by adding chia seeds to your water. Chia seeds are able to absorb ten times their weight in water and help to retain electrolytes, making these little seeds perfect pre or post workout. To start weaving chia seeds into your daily routine, simply add ½ tsp of chia seeds to 8oz of water and wait to drink the water until the chia seeds develop a gelatinous membrane around them. Another way to improve hydration is through demulcent herbs like licorice, marshmallow, slippery elm, shatavari and cinnamon. For a pre-blended demulcent rich tea, try our Hydrate Blend Tea

Photo by Lisa Fotios from Pexels

Evening Oral Care Dinacharya

Brush and Floss 

Before bed, always brush and floss to rid the mouth of food, debris and anything else that can be building up, causing harm to the oral microbiome. Once these practices are complete, simply rinse the mouth out with warm water. If you want to take rinsing the mouth to the next level, rinse your mouth with Triphala churna. 


Rinse with Triphala Churna


What is Triphala?

Triphala is the most used traditional Ayurvedic formulation in the world. It is a well-rounded herbal formula which consists of the three Indian fruits, haritaki, amalaki and bibhitaki. Together, these herbs bring balance to the three doshas (vata, pitta and kapha), improve digestion, draw ama from the tissues of the body, regulate excretion/elimination, strengthen the colon, relieve constipation and provide a healthy dose of Vitamin C to boost immune function. In order to receive the benefits of triphala, classical Ayurveda recommends to ingest Triphala in the form of a churna.  


What is a Churna?

A churna is powdered herbs blended with warm or room temperature water. It is best if this mixture sits for 8-12 hours before use. Despite this fact, one can simply blend the herbs and water together, allow the mixture to sit for at least one minute, then it is ready for ingestion. A churna is a wonderful way to connect with the taste of the herbs and build a relationship with the plant and its spirit. Also, this method of ingesting herbs helps to connect us with the earth element. 


Benefits of Rinsing the Mouth with Triphala Churna

While there are immense benefits from ingesting Triphala, there are also enormous benefits from simply rinsing or swishing with Triphala churna:

  • Reduces plaque.
  • Protects the gums from infections such as gingivitis.
  • Removes unhealthy bacteria like lactobacillus and streptococcus mutans, both known to cause tooth decay. 
  • Heals mouth sores and canker sores. 
  • Improves the sense of taste. 
  • Cleanses & nourishes the entire oral cavity.
  • Aids in the body’s detoxification process / removes ama. 

How to Prepare and Do a Triphala Rinse

To rinse the mouth with Triphala, you will essentially make a Triphala churna. Mix in a small cup ½ tsp of Triphala powder with ½ cup fresh, warm or room temperature water. Allow this mixture to rest for at least 1 minute. Once your churna is infused, swish the Triphala churna / rinse in your mouth as you would any mouthwash. Expel the rinse out and then finish by rinsing the mouth with warm or room temperature water. 


Bringing It All Together

Ayurveda has so much to offer, but this healing system’s ultimate goal is to help us to reconnect with our highest self , deepen our connection to our bodies and realign with nature. By committing ourselves to the  fundamental practices of dinacharya - implementing routine into our days and utilizing plant based ingredients for self-care, we begin to reconnect with the energy and rhythms of the natural world, moving us closer to the higher goals of Ayurvedic medicine. In order to fully embody our true nature as spirit and become more conscious and aware in this lifetime, we must first nurture our physical bodies before we can do the work on a spiritual level. After all, our bodies are the vehicle that allows us to  experience the world around us. When our human vehicles are not in healthy, working order, we are unable to stay in alignment, live in harmony and be of service to the world. 

When we prioritize oral hygiene, we not only ensure that our teeth, gums and mouths will remain healthy, but we ultimately commit to the goals of Ayurveda, giving us the  confidence to go out into the world and let our best selves shine. If you are feeling a little overwhelmed about which Ayurvedic oral care ritual to begin with, we suggest starting with tongue cleaning. This is something you will do first thing in the morning; thus, it will serve as a reminder to stay committed to oral hygiene as your day progresses. We hope that this article inspires you to go beyond just brushing and flossing and integrate classical Ayurvedic wisdom into how you care for your teeth, gums and mouth. 


To explore more about dinacharya, click here. 






References:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3131773/

https://www.vanyodentistry.com/gum-massage-benefits-and-techniques

Shobha Tandon, Kunal Gupta, Sugandhi Rao, K. J. Malagi. “Effect of Triphala Mouthwash on the Caries Status.” International Journal of Ayurveda Research Apr-Jun (2010): 93–99. NCBI. Web. 16 Oct. 2013.

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