Brushing, flossing* and regular dental cleanings may be the three primary cornerstones of good dental health practices — but there’s more you can do to make your mouth even happier. To improve or maintain a healthy mouth — from fresher breath and healthy oral bacteria to potentially reducing issues like cavities and gingivitis — consider these oral health practices (we are not affiliated with any brands mentioned below — they are just products we personally and professionally know, use and trust):
- Tongue scraping. This is a standard Ayurvedic practice that involves using a tool to gently scrape along the surface of the tongue, back to front, seven to 14 times. It’s best done first thing in the morning. Tongue scraping can help eliminate buildup that naturally accumulates on the surface of the tongue. The outermost layer of the top of the tongue is made up of protective dead cells, known as keratin, which can build up and cause issues. Here is a basic tongue scraper available on Amazon.
- Oil pulling. This is another standard Ayurvedic practice with great potential to support optimal oral health. It simply involves taking a small amount of a certain oil and swishing it around in your mouth (for as little as a minute or two, but doing it longer can potentially offer better results). It can be easier to start with a small amount of oil — even just half a teaspoon — and work your way up to a little bit more. As you swish, the volume will increase in your mouth as it combines with saliva. Sesame and sunflower oils are two traditional oil options, alone or as a blend, as is coconut oil (a personal favorite). Remember to not swallow whatever oil you use, and to spit it out in the toilet or garbage, and not in a sink (as pure oil down the drain can cause plumbing issues). Once done swishing, rinse your mouth with warm water. For a truly Ayurvedic approach, the best oil for you to use is dependent on your unique constitution, or dosha. In general, though, unrefined virgin coconut oil is a preferred and readily accessible go-to. Dr. Bronners and Nutiva are two great organic brands, as is 365 Whole Foods organic. There are also blended products available. I’ve tried and liked the pulling oil made by GuruNanda, but recently have been using and really loving the brand Magic Mouth. The base of Magic Mouth is coconut oil, but it also includes a few other (food-grade, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and so on) ingredients that support oral health: xylitol**, diatomaceous earth, neem, peppermint oil and tea tree oil. The oil has a cool feeling in the mouth because of the light mintiness, which can help make the oil pulling experience a little more pleasant especially for newbies. I’ve actually noticed a change overall since starting to use this product a few weeks ago, after not oil pulling for a while.
- Mouthwash. Conceptually, this isn’t anything new. But I bring it up because if you like or want to use mouthwash, be sure to take a close look at the ingredients list. Many mouthwashes contain alcohol, which is intended to help kill bacteria and act as a carrier for certain other ingredients. But alcohol-containing mouthwashes have also been shown to carry risks that may outweigh the benefits for many — including dry mouth, corroding of composites, and an increased risk of developing ulcers as well as mouth / throat cancer. The good news is many alcohol-free mouthwashes are readily available today. We have been using and like the options made by Desert Essence.
- Oral health probiotics. Probiotics play a vital role in our gut health, which in turn directly impacts the health of our whole body. And, no matter how you ingest probiotics — through supplements, drinks or fermented food — they can have a systemic effect. You may know about certain probiotic supplements that are designed and formulated to be digested specifically in the intestine. In a similar vein, there are also chewable probiotics geared toward oral health, as well as that of the ears and sinuses. Some dentists seem to be getting on the oral probiotic bandwagon, particularly for products that include good bacteria specific to oral (vs. intestinal) health. Several strains of probiotics in particular, s. salivarius K12 and s. salivarius M18 (“s.” = streptococcus), have clinically shown to be protective of the teeth and gums, and also support ear, sinus, and throat health. NatureWise is one brand offering an oral-health-centric probiotic containing these probiotic strains.
Turning these practices into a doable routine might look like starting your day with a gentle tongue scraping followed by oil pulling, and then brushing your teeth. Before bed, brush your teeth again, floss and take an oral health probiotic. Mouthwash can be utilized after either brushing, eating or whenever desired.
As always, we encourage you to do your own research, and advocate yourself when speaking with your healthcare providers (dentists included!). Don’t be afraid to push for more information when you need it. Have any questions? Send us an email.
*It’s worth noting that flossing came under debate recently, with some dentists and dental experts questioning its effectiveness in cavity prevention and gum health. While I am not a scientist researching this in a clinical setting, human experience tells me that flossing every day removes visible (and even smaller) food particles that brushing alone doesn’t dislodge. Seems like a fairly rational, no-brainer conclusion to assume that removing these things from between your teeth on a daily basis is helpful in preventing bad bacteria and plaque from developing and impacting breath, cavities and gum health.
**There has been a lot of debate on the long-term safety of regularly ingesting xylitol, or other sugar alcohols, in any substantial volume. While digestion does begin in the mouth with saliva, the oral health benefits of xylitol seem to outweigh potential risk of the ingredient. So, it appears to have worthwhile value within an oil pulling regimen. As far as food consumption of xylitol, that warrants a separate discussion (coming soon!) — but in short, we choose to avoid consumption of xylitol or other sugar alcohols.
The following links feature a range of published data and opinions related to the oral health practices outlined above (ranging from positive to neutral to negative — need to investigate and understand all sides of an argument!):
American Academy of Oral & Maxillofacial Pathology (AAOMP). Hairy/Coated Tongue. AAOMP website. http://www.aaomp.bizland.com/public/hairy-tongue.php. Accessed April 27, 2017.
American Dental Association (ADA). Science in the News: The Practice of Oil Pulling. ADA website. Published May 14, 2014. Accessed April 27, 2017: http://www.ada.org/en/science-research/science-in-the-news/the-practice-of-oil-pulling.
Asokan S, Rathan J, Muthu MS, et al. 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;26:12-7.
Go Ask Alice Team. Alcohol in mouthwash — Does it cause cancer? Columbia University, Go Ask Alice. Accessed April 27, 2017: http://goaskalice.columbia.edu/answered-questions/alcohol-mouthwash-%E2%80%94-does-it-cause-cancer.
Gutkowski S. An in-depth view of oral probiotics. Dentistry IQ website. Published May 2012. Accessed April 27, 2017: http://www.dentistryiq.com/articles/2012/05/gutkowski-probiotics.html.
Nagelberg, RH. Oral Probiotics. Dental Economics website. Accessed April 27, 2017: http://www.dentaleconomics.com/articles/print/volume-102/issue-10/practice/oral-probiotics.html.
Nayak PA, Nayak UA, Khandelwal V. The effect of xylitol on dental caries and oral flora. Clin Cosmet Investig Dent. 2014; 6: 89–94. Published online 2014 Nov 10. doi: 10.2147/CCIDE.S55761
Ozer S, Tunc E, Tuloglu N, et al. Solubility of Two Resin Composites in Different Mouthrinses. BioMed Research International. 2014; 580675: 4. Published April 7, 2014. doi: 10.1155/2014/580675.
Patel S. The Benefits of Tongue Scraping. Chopra website. Accessed April 27, 2017: http://www.chopra.com/articles/the-benefits-of-tongue-scraping.
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.