While a bright, pearly smile is usually the end-goal after any dentist visit, you might be surprised to learn that oral health extends beyond aesthetics — it can actually reflect what’s going on with your body holistically. Much of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Ayurveda treat the body based on the mouth. In most instances, TCM and Ayurvedic practitioners only have to look at your mouth and tongue to diagnose what’s going on in the rest of your body.
The link between chronic disease and the state of one’s mouth is also scientifically proven, so it’s crucial to learn how to keep a balanced, happy oral microbiome — and luckily, there are many natural remedies for oral health that have been used for thousands of years we can look to. To help you decipher the mouth-body connection, TZR spoke to TCM specialist, acupuncturist, and founder of the Juhi Ash Center, Juhi Singh. Ahead, she tells us what we can do to take our well-being to the next level via our oral health.
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The Oral Microbiome
Singh says that since the mouth is the origin point of digestion, it’s directly connected to other systems in the body. So protecting its microbiome — the bacteria-dominant community of microorganisms that is found within the mouth — is critical because when it’s disrupted, the rest of the body can be out-of-sync. “For example, there are certain strains of bacteria that can severely effect your digestive and respiratory system, which in turn can affect your heart,” says Singh. “Good oral health can prevent a host of ailments, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, digestive issues, immune disorders, complications with pregnancy and more.” While this correlation has been understood for years within the Auyervedic community, it’s finally being recognized in mainstream beauty. Better & Better Energy Toothpaste is a toothpaste enhanced with doses of B12 and D3, while oral-care brand Twice offers an Immunity Rinse made with colloidal silver, zinc, coconut oil, and more ingredients that boost oral defenses and protect against infection-causing bacteria.
Your Tongue Is Your Body’s Mirror
In TCM and Ayurveda, your mouth signifies what’s going on in the rest of the body — think of it as a mirror or magnifying glass to your overall health. “One of the modalities that Ayurvedic doctors use to diagnose patients is through analysis of the tongue, as it’s thought that the body’s organ systems are represented on here,” she says. “More specifically, the appearance of the tongue — whether it’s the color or texture — denotes a general idea of organ health.” She explains that a gray, black, or brown hue can indicate the accumulation of toxins and a yellow, green or reddish tinge can indicate afflictions associated with excess heat (or in Western terms, inflammation) in the body.
Much of Ayurveda and TCM treats health issues holistically, always starting with diet adjustments and going from there. But Ayurveda looks at not just what we eat, but also how we eat. “It is important to keep the mouth closed while chewing to generate enough saliva to break down food, a practice that is also key for proper digestion,” Singh says.
Oil Pulling For Overall Health
You might have read about oil-pulling, an Ayurvedic practice that helps improve oral hygiene and extract toxins and bacteria from the body by swishing oil around in the mouth for 15 to 20 minutes— perhaps you’ve even given it a go. But before you reach for any old bottle of oil, note that different oils offer different benefits, which is helpful to understand if you’re trying to tackle a specific ailment. For instance, Singh notes that sesame oil is used to get rid of harmful bacteria, improve breath and reduce inflammation, while kalonji (or onion seed oil) is amazing for respiratory issues and building immunity; coconut oil is a powerful antioxidant with antiseptic properties. But if oil swilling isn’t your thing, there are other surprising, natural ways to easily improve your oral health. Try chewing on a stick of daaatun or neem, which has been used for centuries to prevent tooth decay and gum disease. And for those who’ve brushed too aggressively and have gums that are a bit ravished, Singh recommends triphala tea, which features three different Ayurvedic herbs and has been used for centuries as an Ayurvedic remedy for treating gum problems and gingivitis.
The Fluoride Debate
Incorporating natural treatments to your oral-care routine doesn’t mean you have to eschew other ingredients altogether. Though Singh notes that there are some studies that have shown concerns of fluoride toxicity when ingested in excess (which has subsequently led to a wealth of fluoride-free toothpastes), fluoride is still a science-backed ingredient proven to prevents tooth decay by slowing down the breakdown of tooth enamel. Using fluoride in your oral-care routine is a personal choice — but if you’re looking for natural options to maintain optimum oral health, reach for that stick of neem again: it not only prevents tooth decay, but has scientifically proven antibacterial properties, too.
Ayurveda and TCM offer a plethora of options for keeping your oral health — and overall health — functioning 10/10, backed by thousands of years of history and practice. We’ll certainly be updating our daily oral care routines in the future — starting with a stick of neem.
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