Five Effective Ayurvedic Dental Care Methods
While Ayurvedic medicine approaches each person as a unique combination of doshas and requirements, basic oral hygiene is universal, and Vedic methods have proven to be efficacious — the National Institute for Health (NIH) has published 22 favorable studies confirming the value of these ancient health practices.
Dental care falls under the umbrella of Ayurvedic surgery — there was no specialized dentistry branch within the Vedic system. Teeth are considered part of the skeletal system, and sockets are seen as joints. Oral health in Ayurveda is linked to overall health and well-being, and the condition of the mouth and tongue are considered a window to the body’s health.
The mouth and teeth are also used to determine dosha imbalances. In the most general terms, oral mucus and plaque, along with a white coating on the tongue, indicates kapha imbalances; dry, cracked lips, tooth pain, receding gums and cavities indicate vata imbalances; mouth ulcers, bleeding gums, and tooth sensitivity are associated with pitta imbalances.
Five Ayurvedic Dental Care Practices:
Amla, or Gooseberry
This fruit, in fresh or dried forms, is known to support the connective tissues in the gums and keep teeth from loosening. The fruit works slowly over the long term, but the results are long lasting. Gooseberry fights bacteria and protects from decay, cavities and bad breath. In India, the fresh fruit is chewed, but amla powder is available in the West via online retailers or Vedic pharmacies. This brand is certified organic. One method for amla delivery is making a mouth rinse:
- Put two green tea bags in one cup of boiling water.
- Let cool, then add one tablespoon amla powder.
Use as a mouth rinse before bedtime. Refrigerate, and shake well before using.
2. Miswak and Neem Tooth-Cleaning Twigs
Miswak twigs are from the arak tree. The sticks have been used for thousands of years in the Middle East and Asian sub-continent. Research shows that, compared with a toothbrush, miswak twigs are more effective on streptococcus bacteria and its mutations. They are also less abrasive than traditional tooth brushes. The World Health Organization recommends miswak sticks, for third world populations without access to Western toothbrushes and paste. Some prefer them to commercial toothbrushes, manual and electric, because they are gentle on tooth enamel. No toothpaste is required, and sticks can be used several times a day between meals. Miswak sticks also whiten teeth and remove stains.
Neem sticks are also widely used, but store fresh sticks in the freezer or refrigerator wrapped in paper — not plastic. Clinical trials showed neem sticks are as effective, in some cases more so, as conventional toothbrushes. According to Ayurvedic practitioner and expert John Douillard, neem is called “the village pharmacy” in rural India. The plant and its extractions are used for skin care, digestive balance, treating halitosis, and immune support as well as oral hygiene.
For thousands of years, salt has been used for its “drawing” action, which helps pull infection from inflamed tissues. The ancients did not used table salt processed with aluminum and stripped of natural minerals. Rather, they sought pure, natural salts, either mined or extracted from sea water. Used as one of the earliest forms of currency, salt is essential to human survival. Representing the earth element, salt is one of the three fundamental alchemical substances, along with mercury (water) and sulphur (fire).
In Ayurveda, salt heats and calms the body. Used for food preservation, salt was consumed in larger quantities during winter. When a cold or sore throat is coming on, a salt gargle and mouth rinse restores the mouth’s pH balance, discouraging bacterial growth. Regular salt gargles are an excellent preventative during cold and flu season.
4. Tongue Scraping
Tongue scraping originated with Chinese medicine but was adopted by the Vedics and is believed to have countless benefits. By cleaning surface tissue, taste buds are able to detect and process the six different tastes (sour, sweet, bitter, pungent, salty), making these substances available to the rest of the body. Tongue scraping is considered good for all the organs, and Ayurvedic medicine asserts that the practice clears the mind and reduces ama (toxins, dead bacteria). Our modern tongue scrapers are made from stainless steel, copper, and occasionally bamboo or plastic, and are widely available at natural health food stores or online retailers. Ideally, the tongue is scraped before eating and after oil pulling (see below).
This method, called Kavala in Ayurvedic texts, is now recognized for efficacy and effectiveness by the NIH. Oil pulling results in reductions in plaque-induced gum disease and bacterial colony counts in the mouth. According to the NIH:
“Oil pulling is a powerful detoxifying Ayurvedic technique that has recently become very popular as a complementary and alternative remedy for many health ailments. Using this method, surgery or medication could be prevented for a number of chronic illnesses. The oil therapy is preventative as well as curative. The exciting aspect of this healing method is its simplicity. Ayurveda advises oil gargling to purify the entire system, as it holds that each section of the tongue is connected to different organ such as to the kidneys, lungs, liver, heart, small intestines, stomach, colon, and spine, similarly to reflexology and Traditional Chinese Medicine.”
Oil pulling instructions are widely available on the internet. Some people prefer to use organic, unrefined, cold-pressed sesame oil, while others believe organic virgin coconut oil has extra benefits. Ayurveda also advises gargling, then massaging the gums with unrefined, organic warm sesame oil. For toothaches, mix with clove oil; for gum health, many add Amla powder to the oil and massage the gums.
Watch this episode of Ayurveda for Detox for more effective health tips:
Guide to Alternative Medicine Part 1: Traditional Chinese Medicine
“When health is absent Wisdom cannot reveal itself, Art cannot become manifest, Strength cannot be exerted, Wealth is useless and Reason is powerless.”
— Herophilies, 300 B.C.
Just a decade ago, if patients wanted to explore unconventional treatment options they were on their own. Traditional health professionals generally didn’t encourage alternative therapies or treatments, and discouraged departures from allopathic treatment models such as drugs and surgery.
As research validates the efficacy of non-traditional treatment models, such as traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), ayurvedic medicine, massage and chiropractic adjustment, naturopathy, diet, and natural supplementation — even homeopathy and sound therapy — new branches of medicine emerge.
Integrative, Functional, Complementary, and Alternative Medicine
The “integrative” medical model developed during the early 1990s but was formalized when the National Institute of Health (NIH) created the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH). This classification covered non-conventional treatment and research, and was the beginning of a slow recognition of alternative systems. Integrative models include consideration of a patient’s lifestyle, body, and mind, and how to promote well-being for the whole person rather than just diseases and their symptoms.
“Functional” medicine refers to holistic and alternative medical practices intended to improve overall functions of the body’s systems and explores individual biochemistry, genetics, and environment to determine underlying causes of disease.
According to the NIH, “complementary” medicine coordinates non-mainstream practices with conventional treatments. This has driven acceptance of alternative therapies such as TCM, diet, and nutraceuticals, or supplements.
Alternative medicine is any practice that falls outside conventional systems and is not combined with traditional treatments. For example, if patients choose Ayurvedic medicine, dietary changes, and supplementation to treat their cancer and exclude conventional therapies, they have entered the realm of alternative medicine.
Traditional Chinese Medicine
“Those who disobey the laws of Heaven and Earth have a lifetime of calamities while those who follow the laws remain free from dangerous illness.”
— Huangdi, The Yellow Emperor, 2698–2598 BCE
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) claims to be the third-oldest medical system, preceded only by Egyptian and Babylonian medicine. Theories of TCM are believed to be at least 3,000 to 4,000 years old — likely older, predating written language.
The foundations of TCM are meridian channels and acupuncture points that conduct the movement of chi, and the five-element model correspondences to these points and channels. This five-element system of wood, fire, earth, metal, and water also applies to seasons, colors, sounds, sense organs, personality types, Chinese astrology, feng shui, the I Ching, and countless other aspects of Chinese culture and life.
The Five-Element System in Chinese Medicine
Called the Wu Xing, this five-element system defines relationships between the elements and considers them to be in continual active cycles wherever they are found. Mother/child, or generating relationships, are: wood fuels fire, fire forms earth (think of volcanic flow and ash) earth produces metal, metal carries water (buckets, pipes, etc.), and water feeds wood.
Conversely, there are antagonistic (father/child) relationships: fire melts metal, metal penetrates wood (ax, saw), wood separates earth (tree roots break soil), earth absorbs and directs water (river banks), and water extinguishes fire.
Chinese and Taoist doctors, called OMDs (oriental medicine doctors), see a patient through this lens of five-element relationships, along with yin and yang (passive and active) qualities. Organs are paired into male and female element families that include seasons, colors, compass directions, sense organs, emotions, and virtues. The female, or yin, organs are continually active — the Chinese say a woman’s work is never done — while male yang organs have periods of rest and activity. Element family qualities are:
- Metal: Lung (yin), large intestine (yang); season: autumn; color: white; direction: west; sense organ: nose; emotion: grief. When balanced, grief becomes the virtue of integrity.
- Water: Kidneys (yin), bladder (yang); season: winter; color: black; direction: north; sense organ: ears; emotion: fear. When balanced, fear becomes the virtues of poise, calm, and alert stillness.
- Wood: Liver (yin), gall bladder (yang); season: spring; color: green; direction: east; sense organs: eyes; emotion: anger. When balanced, anger becomes the virtue of kindness.
- Fire: Heart (yin), small intestine (yang); season: summer; color: red; direction: south; sense organ: tongue; emotion: rush/rudeness. When balanced, rushed rudeness becomes the virtues altruism and joy.
- Earth: Spleen (yin), stomach(yang); season: late summer; color: yellow; direction: center or middle; sense organ: mouth; emotion: worry and overthinking. When balanced, worry and obsession become the virtues of balance and equanimity.