The mouth is the gateway to the rest of the body, so prioritizing oral health has many downstream effects. While ancient systems like Ayurveda have acknowledged for millennia the link between oral health and overall well-being, modern science is confirming that issues in the mouth affect organs and tissues throughout the body.
Maintaining a healthy balance of bacteria in the oral cavity, for example, improves the function of the heart, lungs, pancreas, reproductive tissue, digestive system, and more. Even the health of the next generation is affected: findings indicate that a pregnant woman’s oral microbiome could more significantly impact the placental microbiome than the collection of microorganisms in her digestive tract or vaginal canal.
So it’s time to take a serious look at how you’re caring for your mouth. These ten tips will get you started.
Scrape your tongue
Scraping the tongue every morning upon waking confers myriad benefits. It
- aids digestion
- improves the sense of taste
- stimulates the internal organs
- helps cleanse the entire gastrointestinal tract
- removes that unattractive white coating and other accumulations from the night
- reduces the toxins and bacteria that contribute to bad breath
- helps maintain healthy bacterial balance
- encourages awareness of your current state of health as reflected in the tongue
Preferably use a stainless steel cleaner made specifically for this purpose. The back of a spoon could also work to loosen and clear accumulations, but your toothbrush will not.
Scrape the tongue from the back of the throat (just before the gag reflex) forward five to ten times, or until the tongue looks and feels clean.
Brush with natural toothpaste
After scraping your tongue, brush normally with natural toothpaste. Commercial kinds of toothpaste contain harmful ingredients, not the least of which is fluoride. Despite its prevalence, fluoride actually dissolves bones and teeth, in addition to suppressing thyroid function, creating an autoimmune response, damaging the brain and nervous system, and more.
Instead, favor brands with safe ingredients and transparent labeling, like those featured in Soap Hope’s oral care products here.
Dr. Bronner’s Peppermint Toothpaste is a trusted favorite, made with organic ingredients and no fluoride, no synthetic foaming agents, and no artificial colors, flavors, preservatives, or sweeteners. Cinnamon and Anise flavors are also available.
If you want to get a little more adventurous, check out A Wild Soap Bar’s Tooth Savior Natural Tooth Soap, an alternative to the traditional paste that comes in Cinnaclove and Ultamint.
Here’s another practice to add to your daily routine: oil pulling. It’s been gaining popularity lately, but the practice of holding and swishing oil in the mouth is quite ancient.
Like tongue scraping, oil pulling supports detoxification, improves digestive health, freshens the breath, and promotes a healthy balance of oral microbes. It also counters plaque build-up, maintains a normal oral pH, increases the circulation to oral tissue, and encourages strong teeth and gums.
Swish about a tablespoon of coconut oil in your mouth for at least ten minutes, twenty if you can, taking care not to swallow it. While sesame oil was the traditional favorite, many find coconut oil more palatable, and it has excellent antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties.
Do this while showering or getting ready for the day so it doesn’t take up any extra time. Move the oil throughout the mouth—side to side and front to back—and pull it vigorously through the teeth with a sucking action to trap bacteria. When you’re done, spit out the oil and rinse your mouth with water.
Whiten and brighten safely
Commercial whitening products can be even more toxic than standard kinds of toothpaste. Consider home remedies for addressing stains instead.
Activated charcoal, as a highly absorbent substance, effectively binds toxins so they can be excreted by the body. More commonly used for food poisoning, activated charcoal can have a similarly beneficial effect when you brush with it.
Nature’s Way Activated Charcoal is a safe and inexpensive way to give this a try. Open the capsule carefully, as charcoal can stain bathroom surfaces and clothes, and dump a small amount on your toothbrush. Brush as usual and then rinse thoroughly. Repeat a few days in a row and then periodically as needed. You should notice improved whitening.
Another counterintuitive way to whiten teeth is with turmeric—yes, another substance that stains! Turmeric overall is one of nature’s most potent anti-inflammatories, and it can bring some of that stellar action to the gums and mouth.
Put a small amount of powdered turmeric (available in the spice section of the grocery store) on your toothbrush, taking care again to avoid staining your sink or clothes, and brush as normal. Wait five minutes before rinsing to let the turmeric take effect. Rinse thoroughly and brush with natural toothpaste. Results are usually observed with consistency over a few days or a week. Note that your toothbrush will get yellow so you might want to keep a separate brush for this purpose.
Maintain mineral balance
Teeth require essential minerals to maintain their integrity. Most people tend to focus on calcium, but are you getting enough of the other cofactors, like magnesium, zinc, silica, and boron?
A diverse diet rich in whole foods helps here, especially traditional mineral-rich foods like bone broth, colorful plants, and nuts and seeds. Sesame seeds are an exceptional source of calcium, and pumpkin seeds abound in both magnesium and zinc.
While secondary to diet, supplements can help, like this calcium-magnesium mineral complex from Nature’s Way.
And don’t forget silica, perhaps the most overlooked mineral not only for healthy teeth but also for healthy hair, skin, nails, and connective tissue. Horsetail, also called shavegrass, may be the richest source of silica in the plant kingdom. Infuse the dried grass into a tea, or go with the capsule form, as in this product from Nature’s Way.
For additional mineral support or to shift the movement of minerals in the body, you might opt for a homeopathic formulation like Calc Phos and Calc Fluor.
Get the right vitamins
Specific vitamins are just as critical as a mineral balance to teeth and bone. The fat-soluble vitamins A, D, and K2 are especially important: in an intricate process of communication, transportation, and activation, these key players affect calcium metabolism and how well the body is able to build and repair hard tissue.
Again, getting vitamins from food is ideal, especially whole foods naturally high in healthy fats, like fatty fish and fish oil, especially cod liver oil; pastured butter, high-vitamin butter oil, or ghee; coconut oil; egg yolks; poultry liver; and raw dairy (if tolerated). Traditional cultures featured these foods amply in their diets, and they lacked many of the deficiencies and diseases so common today.
Note that these nutrients are not only crucial to your health but also to the health of any future children you might have. Research is showing that poor vitamin K2 status may contribute to deviated septa and other facial abnormalities, while vitamin A, long known for its role in fetal development and eyesight, may be implicated in cleft palate when deficient.
The aforementioned tips will go a long way in maintaining a healthy microbial balance that prevents infection. The dietary recommendations are especially important, since nutrient-poor foods like refined sugars, flours, and oils, coupled with a lack of nutrient-dense foods, predispose the mouth to disease, just as they wreak havoc elsewhere in the body.
Additionally, make sure to support your body’s good bacteria with probiotic-rich foods like raw sauerkraut, coconut kefir, and beet kvass. While supplemental probiotics can help, especially in acute situations, they can’t match the species diversity acquired from a wide range of fermented foods.
If you do have an infection, then you may need more targeted therapies. Among them are the use of essential oils, of which Soap Hope carries a variety. Particularly beneficial to the teeth are clove, tea tree, and peppermint. You can apply the oil directly to the site of pain or infection, or drop the oil onto dental floss and floss as usual to reach pockets of inflammation or infection below the gum line. Another option is to add a few drops to the oil you use in oil pulling.
Work the jaw
The consistent mechanical action is part of good dental care, keeping the whole face and jaw in proper working order.
Among the best foods for this purpose is celery, which forces chewing. It also increases saliva, which serves as a personal mouthwash, and gently cleanses the surface of the teeth. Other crunchy vegetables, like carrots, have a similar action.
In general, try to eat some sort of whole, collagenous, or fibrous food at each meal. The sesame seeds you’re eating for nutrient density (see tip #5) can do double duty here; aim to chew methodically a handful every day. Regardless of the food, really involve the muscles of mastication, not just your facial muscles.
Breathing is so automatic we may rarely think about it, let alone about whether it’s optimal, but breathing and oral health are intimately related. A strong jaw and proper palate formation improve respiratory function, while a small jaw and misplaced tongue constrict the airway, causing a host of problems.
Even though the development of the oral cavity happens very early in life (making the case for adequate maternal and early childhood nutrition even stronger!), the palate is in fact malleable. Along with chewing (see tip #8), concerted effort can make a difference.
Nasal breathing is absolutely essential. The lips should be closed with the tongue pressing gently against the roof of the mouth. Mouth breathing and an inadequately positioned tongue, in contrast, starves the body of oxygen, especially during sleep. Poor sleep, in turn, prevents detoxification, repair, and restoration, leaving you feeling exhausted and irritable and your body more susceptible to inflammation, disease, and cognitive impairment. Once again, oral health is central to whole body health.
Additional breathing practices, like pranayama taught in Ayurveda and yoga, can train you to breathe more effectively and consciously. One simple technique, called ujjayi, is explained here.
In addition to proper breathing, vibration improves the health of bone and teeth. And it need not be complicated, though professional vibration products and therapies are becoming more common. Simple humming can do the trick: place the tongue on the roof of the mouth and hum into the upper jaw for a few minutes daily.
Humming not only activates bone and teeth but also calms the mind and nervous system, improves thyroid and immune function, stimulates the pineal and pituitary glands, and increases the secretion of hormones and neurotransmitters, thereby aiding mood disorders, and much more.
Gargling, chanting, and voice exercises also open the airways and keep teeth healthy and the jaw functioning properly. Furthermore, they stimulate the vagus nerve, which helps to reintegrate that gut-brain, or mind-body, the connection often compromised in everything from digestive distress and constipation to depression, anxiety, and an overactive fight-or-flight response.
So don’t hold back on singing! Even listening to music with healing frequencies can be therapeutic.
There you have it—ten basics of oral care. And the results don’t stop at terrific teeth. As we’ve seen, when the teeth and mouth are well tended, the whole body benefits.