Who wants to have ugly teeth? I don’t know anybody. Do you?
I grew up as probably most of us have been taught. I mean, get a toothbrush, toothpaste and brush your teeth after each meal, right? If you go a step further, probably you floss and use mouthwash.
This might sound disgusting, but I am not a fan of brushing my teeth; I feel it is a little harmful, and my family has a history of sensitive gums that bleed easily. I am not questioning oral hygiene; I am questioning our occidental methods and opening options for different things you can do to care for your teeth.
When I lived in India, I was intrigued by people walking around chewing a stick. I found out there was a different way of “brushing” your teeth. At first, I thought it was a creative, local way to replace our toothbrush (typical Westerner thinking). In fact, it was an effective, affordable and practical solution for a huge part of the population that couldn’t add toothpaste to the “grocery” list.
As my interest in natural living grew, I researched that stick and found out that not only was it way more effective than our toothbrush, but it also has been used for a few thousand more years. Most likely, our toothbrush is a “modern” version of that stick. I have also found a few other local oral health practices promoted by the Ayurvedic tradition that have also been proved to be effective for centuries.
First, let’s go shortly and simply through why we brush our teeth. Mainly to avoid cavities in the first place and loose teeth in the long run, right? Brushing and toothpaste basically prevent food from sticking to our teeth, as well as the buildup of plaque that will eventually penetrate the teeth enamel and cause cavities.
This study in India concludes that commercial toothpaste is not the most effective way to control plaque.
Substances tried / Anti-plaque efficacy %
1% Neem extract / 71.4%
0.5% Neem extract / 69.61%
5% Neem extract / 54.9%
Ayurvedic tooth powder A / 43.0%
Ayurvedic tooth powder B / 37.5%
Commercial toothpaste / 29.8%
If our concern is having healthy, beautiful teeth, here a few more things to consider:
- Brushing (with the wrong brush) can harm gums, which is the main part of having a beautiful smile and healthy teeth.
- Fluoride has its pros and cons.
- Chemicals in toothpaste and mouthwash are absorbed by your body every day, every time you brush.
- Commercial mouthwash eliminates all bacteria (good and bad) from the mouth, causing an imbalance of oral microflora that can lead to sickness.
I am not going to focus on mining through all the toothbrush/ toothpaste/ mouthwash products. I prefer to bring attention to other methods that may hopefully appeal to you and will not only save you money and reduce plastic waste, but will improve your overall health and smile. 😉
In Ayurveda and natural medicine in general, health is about balance. Our mouths are not an exception and actually, they are particularly important in maintaining whole body health and balance. It is said that about 750 different bacterias co-live in our mouths. The mouth is a gate to our digestive system and therefore our bloodstream and organs.
Here are some oral hygiene practices used in Ayurveda that can replace our occidental toothbrushes, toothpaste, mouthwash and medical treatments for halitosis, gingivitis and other problems:
Gargle and gum massage. Using warm unrefined sesame seed oil (ideally organic), gargle and leave in your mouth for a minute. Move around as you do with mouthwash. Spit and massage gums with the leftover seeds using your finger.
The tongue is a gateway, each part has taste buds that perceive the six different flavors. All important to maintain balance. Scraping removes dead bacteria and toxins, and improves the taste buds’ flavor receptors (which create balance and food absorption), and reduces bad breath. A healthy tongue is associated with the thyroid, lungs, heart, kidneys, stomach, and colon.
Chew on sesame seeds:
Chewing on a handful of unhulled seeds will give you calcium, magnesium and zinc. The lack of these minerals is associated with tooth decay and other health problems. After chewing, “brush” your teeth (with empty brush or finger) so that the leftovers around your mouth will act as a scrub. As a bonus, you get a high source of Iron too. Soaked, roasted, or sprouted sesame seeds may increase absorption of these minerals. You might want to do that before chewing them.
Miswak sticks from the Arak Tree are those sticks I mentioned that I saw around in India. They have been used for thousands of years as natural toothbrushes with antibacterial properties to prevent plaque formation. The WHO recommended them back in 1986 and there are a few studies confirming their properties. Licorice roots are other alternatives that clean your teeth and prevent decay. Neem sticks also do the same, plus they help with halitosis (bad breath) and boost your immune system.
Gargle with salt water (from natural salt) to keep the mouth PH balance and fight bad bacterial growth. You can add a drop of peppermint essential oil to boost flavor and properties. This practice is particularly helpful to prevent or soothe sore throats.
DIY herbal toothpaste:
You can get a few natural options in health food stores, but I encourage you to DIY. (See recipe below).
For different mouth problems and conditions, here some more alternatives:
- Infections/ blisters: Apply Tea Tree essential oil or oil of oregano in the area
- Swollen gums: Apply dry turmeric
- Gingivitis: Besides Kavala listed above, massaging with coconut oil also helps
- Toothache: This is not to avoid the dentist, but to help you with pain. Chew a clove or apply powdered clove in the pain area
- Halitosis: Neem! Gargle with a mix of water and a drop or two of neem essential oil or if you can get a neem stick chew it! You can also massage with diluted neem oil.
DIY Toothpaste Recipe
Ingredients for the base:
- 1 part coconut oil (prevents and helps with gingivitis)
- 1/2 part baking soda
To add flavor you can choose or mix these ingredients:
(Use food-grade essential oil or pure powdered herbs. Add enough to get the taste and the properties.)
- Neem: for preventing decay and bad breath
- Sage: has antibacterial properties and helps inflammation and gingivitis
- Peppermint / clove: for flavor and relief of pain
- Cinnamon: helps with pain, is antimicrobial and prevents decay
- Licorice: for preventing decay
Instructions: 3 easy steps
Step 1: Use a stainless steel or heatproof glass container. Mix coconut oil and baking soda.
Step 2: add the powder/ essential oil of your choice
Step 3: Put the container in a bigger container carrying boiled water so it dilutes with the heat. Mix well and pour into your final container (or keep that one). I recommend a wide mouth lid container.
And that’s it! Ready to use. Have a little wooden spoon or similar to help put the paste on your brush. Don’t expect bubbles and expect an oily feeling after. It is a good thing, like moisturizing your gums. Give it a week to get used to it.
I hope I inspire you to change or add any of these practices and ingredients to your oral hygiene routines. A smile has surely a big impact, but a green smile doubles it.
PAOLA // Lima