Updated: Jul 27
Did you know the mouth plays host to around 700 species of microbes ? These invisible house guests are both helpful and harmful, and require attention, good hygiene and eating habits to stave off infection. If the harmful bacteria and fungus are allowed to take root and overwhelm the helpful microbes, one might experience tooth decay, halitosis, gingivitis, receding gums, or a thick, sticky film covering the tongue and soft tissues of the mouth.
Although good oral hygiene is extremely important for maintaining a healthy mouth biome, there are a number of other factors that might also be causing the symptoms previously listed. Sometimes these warning signs are an indication of something more complex happening like:
Poor lymph drainage
Disease in another part of the body
Gut microbiome derangement
Chronic indigestion and/or Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
Eating foods the body can't metabolize
Poor eating habits
My Oral Routine
Every morning when I wake up, I remove my mouth guard (chronic clencher and grinder of teeth since childhood) and immediately examine my mouth and tongue. What am I looking for?
For starters I'm looking at my hydration. If I've been mouth breathing during the night instead of through my nose, my tongue and teeth feel dry and have a sandpaper quality. My throat and cheeks also feel excessively dry, and I can see how parched I am because my tongue lacks saliva. I almost always have abnormally bad breath to accompany my thirst. Breathing through my mouth is an indication my nasal and sinus passages are blocked or inflamed. It's one of my early warning signs of tissue dehydration or possibly a microbiome imbalance in my nose. I do have a slightly deviated septum, so a little difficulty breathing in my left nostril is somewhat normal for me, however it doesn't usually lead to mouth breathing unless I am congested.
Next I take a closer look at my tongue. Is it bubble gum pink all over? Are there any raised patches? Does it look 'normal' relative to my healthiest appearing tongue? Do the edges have any scallops? Any new cracks? If I notice any discoloration - bright red, yellow, white, brown or black - it's usually a sign of how well I've digested the previous days' food, emotions and experiences. If there are raised areas, bright red spots or cracks, I make a mental note of the location because it correlates to a specific area of the body and might indicate dehydration, inflammation, blockage or ama, undigested food that has turned into waste. If I see scalloping it could be a sign of malabsorption or nutrient deficiency. Any coating on my tongue could indicate ama, fungus or toxin buildup. My tongue's appearance gives me a great indication of how clean my blood is.
I look at my gums, upper and lower pallet of the mouth and teeth. If my gums are bright red or appear to have any ulcers, lesions, bumps, recession or discoloration, I'm on alert that something might be off with my mouth biome. I put these areas on watch and pay close attention to changes. I look to see if my teeth appear to be getting larger, brittle or discolored, as these could be indications of receding gums, bone density issues or mineral deficiency. If I notice ulcers, I'm thinking about my diet and whether I ate anything that might increase acidity and reflux or heartburn.
Once my visual inspection is complete, I scrape my tongue, brush my teeth for 2 minutes, perform gandusha, the process of swishing a highly refined oil (usually sesame, sunflower or coconut) for 3-5 minutes, and then rinse my mouth with warm water. I follow this routine religiously every day and without fail. I then drink a hot glass of water with pink Himalayan salt to gently wake up my digestive system and organs from their slumber.
Explanation Behind Ayurvedic Oral Care
Our ancestors relied on a keen sense of taste and smell to discern poisonous and non-poisonous plants and substances. This was essential for survival, therefore they used foods and techniques to maintain freshness as a matter of preservation. For example, they chewed their food slowly and deliberately often in silence in order to thoroughly combine their saliva with the food. This was important because chewing and the role the tongue plays kicks off the digestive process. If they couldn't digest and absorb the nutrients in a way the body could use, death was a very real possibility.
What do we mean by 'the tongue and chewing kicks off digestion'? Your mouth and the many salivary glands located on and around the tongue are critical sites for the production of digestive enzymes necessary to break down carbohydrates and fats. Without salivary amylase and lingual lipase you wouldn't be able to absorb the nutrients. Although your pancreas also produces lipase, your mouth is the first line of defense that helps synthesize carbohydrates by transforming starch into sugar. If you suffer from dry mouth or your tongue has a coating, your taste buds become impaired and your body won't produce the enzymes and saliva needed for digestion. Recall when you smell something baking and your body automatically triggers an increase in saliva as it anticipates the taste of the delicious food.
When you scrape the tongue, you remove bacteria and some of the sticky film from the surface of the tongue which actually helps the taste buds more effectively do their job. Think about how hard it is to taste food when your mouth is dry. The act of gandusha or oil pulling and drinking water with pink Himalayan salt helps to deeply penetrate the tissues and cells of the gums, mouth and tongue locking in moisture and preventing dehydration in the mouth.
Using a high quality sesame oil may also fortify the teeth as sesame contains calcium. Gandusha is also thought to keep the pH of the mouth alkaline making it harder for bacteria to grow. This also reduces the erosion of enamel caused by acid because the oil neutralizes it. Coconut oil, for example, has a pH of 7 or 8 and bacteria growth and tooth demineralization occurs at a pH of around 5.5.
We offer three flavors of an all organic tooth powder supplied by a local Colorado small business called Bee-och.
Personally, I use tooth powder for my brushing routine. Largely because of the environmental impact (no plastic tube) and the related chemicals that seep into the paste ultimately making their way into our water supply and our precious bodies. But also because I feel the powder does a better job of scraping away plaque and stains. It's also the closest to how our ancestors may have lived. Most tooth powders contain only naturally occurring ingredients whereas many name brand tooth pastes have added chemicals for foaming, color, texture and more. (To understand the differences between tooth powder and toothpaste, try reading this article from Healthline.) Irrespective of your choice, Ayurveda recommends brushing thoroughly for at least two minutes followed by gargling or rinsing the mouth with warm water. This releases the bacteria from the mouth and prevents it from traveling into the GI system.
Many studies have revealed that early warning signs of disease can often first be seen in the mouth. With a regular oral routine and examinations by a dental practitioner, you dramatically reduce the risk of bacteria overgrowth and can rapidly identify areas of concern. You also help improve your digestion and the body's ability to absorb the nutrients from your food. In Ayurveda, we believe you are what you can't digest. If you can't digest, you exist in a state of discomfort or dis-ease. Adding time in your morning schedule to incorporate a 5500 year-old practice that offers better overall health is a great way to digest the richness of life.