Why do people experience tooth decay?
92% of adults age 20-64 have had at least one cavity in their permanent teeth, and up to 26% of this population have on-going untreated decay. 42% of children have dental caries in their primary teeth, with approximately 24% of them having on-going untreated decay.1 So, it’s clear that good dental hygiene is a topic of concern.
One of the biggest gaps in healthcare these days is adequate oral care, from both a lack of dentists to meet all the needs and the fact that up to 80% of dentists opt out of social programs like Medicaid due to poor reimbursement.
There is ample evidence to implicate dental plaque as the primary etiological agent responsible for periodontal diseases.
One thing is for sure, the more you take control of your teeth and know how to improve gum health naturally, the better off you will be. Good dental hygiene isn’t just about brushing; taking care of your teeth requires a routine that comprises both healthy habits and your diet!
The Basics of Oral Hygiene: What You Need To Do
When it comes to oral hygiene, sugar is not a welcome substance. Sugar is not great for your teeth, even if it’s natural and organic. A little bit here and a little bit there, and you can consume quite a bit of sugar over the course of the day. Sugar is what provides bacteria like Streptococcus mutans food, and then S. mutans secretes organic acids that are believed to break down the enamel on teeth, the hard covering, which leads to poor oral hygiene.
Also, sugar in the digestive system is going to weaken the immune system and discourage the growth of good bacteria. So all in all, make sure you are reading labels and avoiding foods that have “sugar” as an ingredient. It is ok to eat some wholesome sugars from time to time, but do everything you can to get these out of your daily dietary routine. This is crucial if you have kids!
Diet and Cavity Prevention
A whole foods diet is key to keeping teeth healthy and having optimal oral hygiene. The health of the mouth is thought to be a reflection of the health of the rest of the digestive system. So if you keep the digestive system healthy, your teeth will also be healthy.
Be sure to get lots of fresh vegetables and dark colored fruits into the diet. Avoid canned foods as much as possible. Shop in the perimeter of the grocery store and the bulk aisle, and you will be sure to be eating a whole foods diet when you do that!
Ayurvedic Treatments for Oral Hygiene
Oil Pulling for Good Dental Hygiene
This has become a very popular practice lately. Oil pulling helps reduce pathogenic bacteria in the mouth, like Streptococcus mutans, which will reduce the amount of plaque build-up and possibly tooth decay.2 There is also some improvement in halitosis (bad breath) with the regular use of oil pulling.3 It is originally from the Ayurvedic system of medicine. How you do it: get 1-2 tbsp of oil, either coconut, sesame or olive oil. Use enough that there is plenty to coat your teeth as you swish it around, but also that there is plenty of “air” in the mouth so the oil can move about. Put it in your mouth and swish with it for 15 minutes. Spit the oil out into the trash when you are done. Traditionally sesame oil was used. Many people today use coconut oil because of its popularity. Research has even looked at the effectiveness of the olive oil.4
Oil pulling removes plaque and helps reduce gingivitis, which is awesome because this is one of the most common health complaints (many people don’t even realize they have gingivitis)!5
Beyond Oil Pulling
There are a number of other things that can be done to reduce tooth decay, cavities, gingivitis and bad breath. Let’s go through those now.
Want to know how to improve gum health naturally? Still, in the same vein as oil pulling, another great way to keep your mouth healthy is to perform gum massage. This is another traditional Ayurvedic technique, that uses oil and your fingers to create great oral health!
Sesame oil, coconut oil, and olive oil were all tested against the gold standard of chlorhexidine gel as a way to reduce gingivitis. All species were significantly effective at reducing Streptococcus mutans and none of them outperformed the other. So if you would prefer something natural without the possibility of side effects, these three oils can be used as a gum massage to reduce the occurrence of gingivitis.6
Ayurvedic medicine also recommends, “chewing sticks,” which are described in ancient Ayurveda texts as having medicinal and anti-cariogenic properties. These sticks are used in the morning and after each meal. The stick is chewed on, and as it breaks down, it coats the teeth, and then you swallow it. The medicine from these sticks is therefore received topically as well as internally. Sticks are chosen for their astringent, acrid or bitter taste.6
What are these sticks made out of?
Great question! Let us look at some of the plants used traditionally as chewing sticks.
Neem (Azadiraxhta indica) is currently used as a popular chewing stick. Traditionally healthy plants were found and the young stems would be used. The stem would be broken off the plant and the leaves removed.
Today, you can find neem toothpaste and neem toothpicks which provide a slightly different effect as you are not chewing on them, but the medicine would still be applicable to helping keep teeth healthy.
Many studies have looked at the use of neem for plaque reduction and cavity prevention. Children using neem datun were found to be less affected with dental caries. Dental caries was also found to be low in those who rinsed their mouth with water after food.7
Interestingly, research looking at the anti-plaque activity of neem at different concentrations, ayurvedic tooth powders, and conventional toothpaste found that neem had the highest anti-plaque effect.8
Licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra) is a common herb in both Ayurvedic and Tradition Chinese Medicine systems. You can use this as a chewing stick by buying long flattened roots, and it promotes anti-cavity action, reduces plaque, and has an antibacterial effect.6
Ayurvedic Herbs Used As Mouth Wash
Commonly mouth rinses are used as a way to reduce plaque. But with increasing resistance to antibiotics and rising incidence of oral diseases, natural and alternative solutions that are safe and effective are being looked at. Plus over the counter mouth rinses have common side effects including staining, increased tartar, dry mouth, an unpleasant taste in the mouth, tongue swelling, and gingivitis.
Instead of going for these to reduce plaque, why not try some herbal rinses.
This berry is used commonly to regenerate tissue, being astringent. It is one of the three components of Triphala, a traditional digestive healing tonic used in Ayurvedic medicine. It is also commonly found in chawanprash, and Ayurvedic paste
You can make a mouth rinse as a decoction using 1-2gm orally as a tonic for the teeth and gums. The herb supports healing and regeneration of connective tissue. In Ayurvedic medicine, the teeth are looked similarly to bones/joints, where each tooth socket is considered a joint and the teeth are miniature bones.9
Aloe (Aloe vera) is also a traditionally used plant in Ayurveda. Both aloe and over the counter mouthwash significantly reduced plaque, with one study showing some difference in effectiveness (non-significant favoring the OTC mouthwash) and the other showing no difference between the two’s ability to reduce plaque.10,11
What Other Herbs Help Keep Teeth Healthy
Additionally, herbs like Bilberry and Hawthorn have been used to keep the gums strong by stabilizing collagen and strengthening the gum tissue. Using these as herbal teas is a great way to give your teeth a daily dose of regeneration, both topically and through drinking the tea.6
There you have it, the Ayurvedic traditional ways to keep teeth healthy! They are showing some great proof that they really do work to prevent cavities, reduce gingivitis and keep your smile looking great for a long time.
National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research: Dental Caries (Tooth Decay) in Adults (Age 20 to 64), Dental Caries (Tooth Decay) in Children (Age 2 to 11). Published September 2014. Accessed February 2017.
Asokan S, Rathan J, Muthu MS, Rathna PV, Emmadi P; Raghuraman; Chamundeswari. Effect of oil pulling on Streptococcus mutans count in plaque and saliva using Dentocult SM Strip mutans test: a randomized, controlled, triple-blind study. J Indian Soc Pedod Prev Dent. 2008 Mar;26(1):12-7. Published December 2008. Accessed March 2017.
Asokan S, Kumar RS, Emmadi P, Raghuraman R, Sivakumar N. Effect of oil pulling on halitosis and microorganisms causing halitosis: a randomized controlled pilot trial. J Indian Soc Pedod Prev Dent. 2011 Apr-Jun;29(2):90-4. Published November 2011. Accessed March 2017.
Hebbar A, Keluskar V, Shetti A. Oil pulling – Unraveling the path to mystic cure J. Int Oral Health 2010. Published December 2010. Accessed March 2017.
Peedikayil FC, Sreenivasan P, Narayanan A. Effect of coconut oil in plaque related gingivitis – A preliminary report. Niger Med J. 2015 Mar-Apr;56(2):143-7. Published March 2015. Accessed March 2017.
Singh A and Purohit B. Tooth brushing, oil pulling and tissue regeneration: A review of holistic approaches to oral health. J Ayurveda Integr Med. 2011 Apr-Jun; 2(2): 64–68. Published April 2011. Accessed February 2017.
Venugopal T, Kulkarni VS, Nerurker RA, Damle SG, Patnekar PN. Epidemiological study of dental caries. Indian J Pediatr. 1998 Nov-Dec;65(6):883-9. Published November 1998. Accessed March 2017.
Saimbi CS. The efficacy of neem extract -reported in Jeevaniya Health Care magazine 1994. Published 1994. Accessed February 2017.
Gupta D, Bhaskar DJ, Gupta RK, Karim B, Gupta V, Punia H, Batra M, Jain A, Agarwal A, Singh P. Effect of Terminalia chebula extract and chlorhexidine on salivary pH and periodontal health: 2 weeks randomized control trial. Phytother Res. 2014 Jul;28(7):992-8. Published July 2014. Accessed March 2017.
Gupta RK, Gupta D, Bhaskar DJ, Yadav A, Obaid K, and Mishra S. Preliminary Antiplaque Efficacy of Aloe Vera Mouthwash on 4 Day Plaque Re-Growth Model: Randomized Control Trial. Ethiop J Health Sci. 2014 Apr; 24(2): 139–144.
Chandrahas B, Jayakumar A, Naveen A, Butchibabu K, Reddy PK, and Muralikrishna T. A randomized, double-blind clinical study to assess the antiplaque and antigingivitis efficacy of Aloe vera mouth rinse. J Indian Soc Periodontol. 2012 Oct-Dec; 16(4): 543–548. Published October 2012. Accessed March 2017.