You brush twice a day. Floss regularly. Minimize sugary foods. Visit the dentist every six months. You’re well on your way to terrific teeth, right?
Not so fast.
Really tending those pearly whites goes beyond basic brushing and routine dental care. And there’s evidence to support that minding your mouth affects whole-body health.
The mouth is the gateway to the rest of the body, so what happens there 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 impact 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 what’s going on in your mouth. These twelve tips will get you started.
(Several of these tips debuted in an article on Soap Hope’s blog. To learn more about Soap Hope and why we like them, see here.)
1. 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, like this one. 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.
2. Select natural toothpaste
After scraping your tongue, brush normally with natural toothpaste. Commercial toothpastes 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. 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.
Earthpaste is another great option that comes in classic Peppermint and other flavors.
3. Brush gently
How’s your toothbrushing form? If you haven’t thought much about it, you may be doing harm.
First off, most Americans brush too hard. Aggressive brushing can wear away enamel, damage dentin, make teeth more sensitive, cause receding gums, and even contribute to cavities.
Many are also brushing too often. Despite the hype of oral hygiene, toothbrushing as touted today is fairly new on the scene of human history—and paradoxically, so is dental decay and disease. While keeping your mouth clean is undeniably important, brushing may be more a cosmetic flourish than the bulwark of oral health. For that, look to nutrition especially (see tips #6 and #7 below).
To reap the benefits of brushing without the adverse effects, use only a soft brush and replace it frequently so the bristles don’t stiffen and abrade your teeth and gums.
Brush in a circular motion. Ditch the up-and-down sawing motion and try to replicate the action of an electric toothbrush. Or better yet, invest in that electric toothbrush. Either way, think of brushing as an opportunity to give each tooth a gentle massage.
Relearning old habits can be tricky, especially with something as ingrained as toothbrushing. A handy solution? Brush with the nondominant hand. The novelty forces you to pay attention, helping reboot your brain for better brushing and healthier oral hygiene habits.
4. Oil pull
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.
5. Whiten and brighten safely
Commercial whitening products can be even more toxic than standard toothpastes. 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.
Experimenting with activated charcoal is safe and inexpensive. 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.
6. 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, either oral products or topical ones like a magnesium spray.
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 or go with encapsulated horsetail.
7. Get the right vitamins
Specific vitamins are just as critical as mineral balance to teeth and bones. 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.
8. Address infection
The aforementioned tips will go a long way toward 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 (see tip #4).
9. Work the jaw
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 #6) 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.
10. Breathe deeply
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 #9), 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 teeth and bones. 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 teeth and bones 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 reintegrate that gut-brain, or mind-body, 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. One of our favorites is the unique collection from the Wholetones Healing Frequency Music Project. Curious about what makes this collection special? To learn more about why we like Wholetones and other products we recommend, see here.
12. Seek safe dental care
Did you know that cancer, diabetes, autoimmune disease, cognitive dysfunction, and other disorders may be linked to stealth infections and toxicity in the mouth?
Unfortunately, infection and toxicity, especially heavy metal toxicity, are often introduced into the body through standard dental practices. Procedures like wisdom teeth extractions and root canal treatments can create pockets of anaerobic bacteria that unleash potent toxins to detrimental effect throughout the body but may go unrecognized for decades. Materials like mercury, fluoride, and others that are not biocompatible—but nevertheless routinely used—likewise disperse their insidious toxicity throughout the body.
If you need dental care, especially more than a routine cleaning, then find a biological or holistic dentist in your area. Do your research and ask questions before booking an appointment. Find out about the dentist’s stance on fluoride, mercury removal procedures, detoxification recommendations, practices to reduce radiation exposure, certifications and accreditations, and more.
Working with a dentist trained in a biocompatible approach to oral health will go a long way in supporting the other steps you’re taking to safeguard your teeth.
There you have it—twelve 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.
Stacy Claxton, a Functional Diagnostic Nutrition® Practitioner, Ayurvedic Health Practitioner and Educator, and Perinatal Specialist, is one half of the dynamic duo behind Preparing to Parent, where she and her identical twin, Erin, are “growing families with purpose…on purpose.” This passionate sister pair loves caring for the tender and vulnerable bodies, minds, and souls of new beings and new moms and wielding words with impact on their holistic health blog. Join their family for free recipes and more.