Even after 12 years of practice, I’m continually fascinated by the amount of support that plant care offers and how far our culture veers away from embracing it. Oral hygiene is a perfect example.
Herbs like rosemary, thyme, cleavers, and calendula can be made into tea rinses, beneficial for use after eating. Allow herbs to brew for 15 minutes, cool and swish! Fresh sage leaf is a wonderful antimicrobial which can be rubbed daily on teeth and gums, brightening teeth over time and supporting healthy gums. Herbal poultices made with Hops, Willow, Yarrow, and Clove relieve mouth pain and compresses made with Plantain, Slippery Elm, and Prickly Ash relieve abscesses.
Growing up, I daily swished fluoride with my classmates at my public elementary school and used dyed sugary synthetic flavored toothpastes. Typical commercial toothpastes contain fluoride, dyes, synthetic flavors, and Sodium Lauryl Sulfates (SLS). In Leslie Alexander’s and Linda Straub-Bruce’s Dental Herbalism (a fantastic book of holistic dental information and tips), they write, “some people can be very sensitive to SLS, studies show links between SLS and canker sores, tooth sensitivity, and swollen lips…” **And after listening to Amber Hill's interview with herbalist and holistic dentist, Rupam Henry, I learned that even most alternative toothpastes have abrasive agents like baking soda and charcoal, which wear down the enamel and gums, and artificial sweeteners like vegetable glycerin, which is sticky and coats the teeth, attracting more plaque. I have since ordered Rupam's dental kit, which includes her Tooth Soap & Elixir. I love her products and can feel a noticeable difference in how clean my teeth feel.**
Needless to say, I’ve changed my oral care since I was young! I’ve incorporated an Ayurvedic daily routine, called ‘dinacharya’, which helps bring radical change to the body, mind, and spirit, and balances one’s constitution. Along with meditation, yoga, and breathwork, dinacharya includes beneficial dental help, shared below:
*After waking, rinse your mouth with cool water and then drink a glass of warm water from a copper cup, filled the night before, as copper positively charges the water. This washes the GI tract, flushes the kidneys, and stimulates peristalsis.
*Scrape the tongue (with a tongue scraper or side of a spoon), which helps to remove food, bacteria, and dead cells lodged on the tongue, often the sources of bad breath. Tongue scraping stimulates internal organs and digestion, as different parts of the tongue relate to different organs.
*Brush your teeth (ideally 2-3 times per day. Plaque and bacteria accumulate in the mouth overnight, so best to do one brush first thing in the morning so you don't swallow it all back down! And if you brush after food, wait about 40 minutes so the acidity returns to normal, and your enamel re-hardens). I have an electric toothbrush with a soft head-it’s important to use gentle circular motions and avoid brushing back and forth, as this can cause gum recession.
*Floss, either with dental floss, a waterpik, or a toothpick. Toothpicks have been used for ages to remove food and debris and are a great alternative to the plastic floss boxes!
*Oil Pull: Swish oil in your mouth for 15-20 minutes. Sesame oil is traditional in Ayurveda, and Coconut oil is a great alternative, twice a day is recommended. I add a drop or two of clove essential oil or some of Melanie’s Amazing Gum Tonic for extra antibacterial properties. My teacher at the Ayurvedic Institute, Dr. Vasant Lad, often said that oil pulling strengthens teeth, gums, and jaw, improves the voice and removes wrinkles from cheeks. After spitting out the oil, gently massage the gums with your finger and rinse your mouth with warm water.
*Chew a handful of sesame seeds, which can help receding gums and strengthen teeth. This energizes the liver and the digestive fire.
A diet free of processed foods, sugar, and snacking is essential for optimal dental care. Alexander and Straub-Bruce encourage us to “Eat local strawberries that have not been irradiated. They are not only good for the mouth, the microorganisms they carry can help our immune status.” Strawberry season is winding down here in Maine, so be sure to get some while you can!
What have you found that helps your mouth feel vital and bright?!
**Edited after listening to interviews with Rupam and using her products!