Ayurveda does not consider oral hygiene or dentistry as a separate area of study. Instead, it deals with the overall hygiene of the mouth as a part of one’s daily routine. It sets guidelines for everything from brushing your teeth, to herbal remedies for common oral problems with an aim to prevent, rather than treat the same.
Here is a handy guide to some of the most common ayurvedic terms for oral hygiene:
Brushing teeth – dantadhavana
Tongue scraping – jihwa nirlekhana
Oral cavity – mukha
Lips – oshta
Gums – danta mula
Tooth – danta
Palate – talu
Throat – galam
What kind of toothbrush should you use?
Ayurveda recommends the use of herbal toothbrushes. Traditionally these are herbal twigs that are chewed, and the chewed fibrous end serves as a brush. Such herbal twigs were used widely in the Indian subcontinent and Africa. The twigs can be from different trees and plants such as neem, calotropis, banyan, black catechu, pongamia and arjuna.
In Ayurveda, oral diseases are predominantly caused due to imbalance of the kapha (earth and water) bodily energy. As such, Ayurveda recommends brushes made from herbs that have different tastes, such as pungent, bitter and astringent all of which help to treat diseases of kapha.
Tongue scraping is to be performed after brushing the teeth. The tongue cleaner must be made of a metal, ideally gold, silver, copper or steel. Such scraping helps to remove the coating on the tongue along with bacterial growth and bad odour. Clinical trials have proven that scraping the tongue regularly has a significant role in eliminating anaerobic bacteria — those which cause bad breath and can survive without oxygen.
Alternatives to brushing
Ayurveda suggests dental tips for healthy teeth and gums as alternatives to brushing in cases where people have mouth ulcer, fever, indigestion, nausea, cough, asthma or excessive thirst. Instead, such individuals can resort to one or a combination of two slightly varying methods — Kavala and Gandusha – recommended tips to keep teeth healthy and maintain oral hygiene and to keep diseases of the oral cavity at bay.
Kavala Graha (swishing): The mouth is filled with liquid medicines which may include oils, decoctions or herbal juices. The liquid is retained in the mouth for a few minutes and gargled, followed by washing of the mouth.
Gandusha (a mixture of medicated liquids retained in the mouth): This process involves filling the mouth completely with liquid medicines and retaining the liquid for 2-3 minutes. Later the liquid is spat out and the mouth is rinsed.
The difference between the two procedures is that one requires movement (swishing) and the other does not. Sesame oil is commonly used for these processes and the decoction or kashayam is made with triphala, a mixture of three medicinal berries.
These procedures help in keeping up the hygiene of the entire oral cavity, including the teeth, the gums, the tongue, and the throat.
The aim of these procedures is to remove plaques between teeth, enhance the perception of taste by cleaning the tongue, eliminate bad breath and heal any sore throat.
Protection from gingivitis
A few ayurvedic practices are also found effective against oral diseases such as gingivitis, a bacterial infection of the gums.
Researchers from Chennai’s Meenakshi Ammal Dental College evaluated the effect of oil-pulling with sesame oil on plaque-induced gingivitis. They used chlorhexidine mouthwash, used in the treatment of gum infections, as the control.
They concluded that oil-pulling using sesame oil was effective in reducing gingivitis and that it can be adopted as a preventive measure to maintain oral hygiene.
Tips for oral health
From traditional herbal twigs to herbal toothpastes, drugs prescribed for oral hygiene have evolved over the past two decades. They are thriving in a market full of oral chemical products mainly because many of their herbal ingredients are known to have time-tested anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory features.
Here are a few herbs that are useful for maintaining the health of the oral cavity:
- Neem twigs were once the traditional toothbrushes. Studies have proven neem as being antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, analgesic (pain-relieving) and immunostimulant (improving the immunity). A phytochemical called gallotannin that is present in neem is a proven mechanical as well as chemical anti-plaque agent. A study conducted by a group of dentists from the Institute of Dental Sciences in Bareilly, Uttar Pradesh, found that a mouth rinse prepared using neem leaves was more efficacious in managing chronic periodontitis (infection of the gums) than chlorhexidine that is used to treat infection of the gum and the oral cavity.
- Miswak is a popular Ayurvedic herb used for managing oral diseases and traditional toothbrushes has regained popularity and is now an ingredient in most toothpastes. A clinical study involving 50 healthy individuals evaluated the plaque reducing activity of miswak twigs and compared it with the common toothbrush for reducing plaques. Miswak was found to be more effective than a toothbrush in reducing plaque. It was also found effective in whitening the teeth.
- Liquorice is a sweet-tasting herb that has been clinically proven in preventing and treating oral diseases such as dental caries, periodontal diseases, candidiasis, aphthous ulcers and oral cancer. A study showed that liquorice alone or in combination with calcium hydroxide has potential benefits in inhibiting faecali. This is the predominant micro-organism recovered from root canals of the teeth where previous endodontic therapy has failed and is the major cause of failure of root canal therapy.
- Mint is used as a common ingredient in most toothpowders and toothpastes. It is known to have a cooling effect and provides freshness while eliminating bad breath. Mint leaves are helpful in treating inflammation of the inner oral lining or mucosa.
- Clove has been traditionally used to lessen toothache and eliminate bad breath. Gargling with diluted clove oil is advised to soothe the throat and remove bad breath. Eugenol, the active compound in clove, helps to clear bad breath, making clove a popular ingredient in toothpastes and toothpowders.
Other plants such as turmeric, basil leaves, triphala, black catechu and myrrh are also used in maintaining oral hygiene and in preventing and managing the diseases of the oral cavity.
These procedures are laid out keeping in mind the fact that the mouth is the gateway to the digestive tract; keeping it healthy also ensures the health of the gut.