Dinacharya Series #2 : Ayurveda Daily Practices for Oral Health
History reveals the leaders of ancient times were keen on their oral health to an extent that the teeth of some famous leaders are still conserved. For example, the left canine of Gautama Buddha is still preserved at the “Temple of tooth” in Sri Lanka. But apart from brushing daily, people these days are concerned about oral health only when some dental problem pops up. We brush regularly, flash a smile as a mode of expressing several emotions, munch on several eatables a day. Yet, how many of us are really serious about oral hygiene? Compared to the present era, people of olden times were more conscious of oral health. Ayurveda as a mode of healthy lifestyle gives great importance to oral health and hygiene. This article throws light on the several Ayurveda procedures that can be practiced daily for maintaining oral hygiene.
BRUSHING THE TEETH
For some reason, there is always an apprehension for both adults and children alike when it comes to dental checkup. It could be the thought about extraction, the injections, the anesthesia that may be required during the process or even the fear for all those equipment and instruments. Whatever the reason be, the fear has forced us to search for healthy preventive options and many are turning the Ayurveda way. So, what Ayurveda says about dental care? Intrigued? Let us find out.
(Ashtanga Hridayam Sutra sthanam 2/2-4)
शरीरचिन्तां निर्वर्त्य कृतशौचविधिस्ततः अर्कन्यग्रोधखदिरकरञ्जककुभादिजम् प्रातर्भुक्त्वा च मृद्वग्रं कषायकटुतिक्तकम् कनीन्यग्रसमस्थौल्यं प्रगुणं द्वादशाङ्गुलम् भक्षयेद्दन्तपवनं दन्तमांसान्यबाधयन् II
As you may be aware, people during ancient times used the twigs of trees for cleaning the teeth. Acharya Vaghbata is very specific about the herbs that should be used for this purpose. He recommends the use of drugs with Kashaya (astringent), Katu (pungent)and Tikta (bitter) predominant tastes such as Arka (Calotropis procera), Nyagroda (Ficus benghalensis), Khadira (Acacia catechu), Karanja (Pongamia pinnata), and Kakubha (Terminalia arjuna). Oral diseases are mainly Kapha dosha predominant and that is why he mentions those three tastes in particular, as they help pacify Kapha. He further mentions, the twig should be straight with a thickness equal to the tip of one’s little finger and length around 12 Angula (approx. 24cm). If you look at this description closely, this is nothing but an ancient model of a toothbrush. Acharya also advises to chew the tip of the twig and while cleaning, one should not hurt the gums. This is a perfect example of a simple exercise that helps strengthen the facial muscles. We cannot help but astonish at these minute details and the clarity of matter it conveys!But how can we implement all these practically in this modern era? Certainly, the toothbrush has replaced the twigs and is convenient as well. So, bring innovation in your toothpaste. As simple as that! Go for herbal tooth powders or toothpastes instead of those chemical laden ones. The goodness of herbs will help freshen your breath and remove debris and harmful bacteria. Most of the herbs used in such toothpastes have antiseptic and antibacterial properties and pose only a minimal risk of allergic reactions or mucosal irritations. Since there are no harmful chemicals, normal salivary secretion and pH will be maintained. It is recommended to make it a habit to use herbal toothpastes from childhood itself. You definitely don’t want those precious little teeth to suffer from fluoride damage.Now, would you believe that the tooth enamel is the hardest material in the human body? Yes, that outer surface layer which serves to protect your tooth from decay. So, if that hard, mineralized tissue subjects to decay over a period, you may certainly want to think about more healthy options and herbal toothpastes are certainly a better choice. Brush twice a day, in the morning and evening; each tooth should be cleaned one after the other starting from the lower row. Apart from the above-mentioned herbs, Neem, Mango leaves etc. were also mentioned by different Acharyas and were put in use to clean the teeth in different parts of India. Researches conducted on the effect of these herbs in preventing tooth decay and caries have proved its efficacy beyond doubt*. Your teeth are not limited for eating. It reflects your personality, confidence and is certainly handy when you smile. So, make sure you take care of them pretty well.* Sumant G, Beena G, Bhongade L. Oral Health status of young adults using indigenous oral hygiene methods. Stomatologica India. 1992;5:17–23; Venugopal T, Kulkarni VS, Nerurker RA, Damle SG, Patnekar PN Indian J Pediatr. 1998 Nov-Dec; 65(6):883-9.
Wondering if this is a health topic important enough to be discussed? Well, as per Ayurveda way of living, certainly yes. When it comes to preventive and lifestyle aspects, Ayurveda is very precise and does not ignore anything as insignificant. Imagine a life without the sensation of taste and unable to communicate vocally. Difficult right? If you have ever been to an Ayurveda Physician, chances are that he/she might have examined the tongue too as a part of regular examination. Your tongue gives many vital clues about your health, especially that of the digestive system. So, doesn’t it deserve special attention?Ayurveda describes the process of tongue scraping as “Jihwa nirlekhanam.” Acharya Vaghbata in Ashtanga Samgraha advices to gently scrape the tongue from its root to tip using a thin plate of gold, silver or copper. Alternatively, the midrib of coconut leaf or mango leaf were also used in ancient India. Acharya further mentions its length as 10 Angulas (approx. 20cm), should be curved and the margins be blunt so that it will not hurt. Compare this description to the modern-day tongue cleaners and you now know from where the idea has been adopted. It may not be economical to use gold, silver or such expensive metals but instead of plastics that are available in the market, you can certainly opt for stainless steel ones.Regular tongue scraping removes the accumulated coating over the tongue and helps with better taste sensation. The dirt accumulated at the root of the tongue hampers with normal respiration and causes bad odor (halitosis). A cross over study on the efficacy of tongue scraping in fighting bad breath revealed that this habit is the most effective hygienic practice to reduce morning bad breath in healthy individuals*. It helps stimulate the reflex points of the tongue and aids the secretion of digestive enzymes. Acharya Vaghbata has also stressed the importance of tongue scraping in stimulating the Agni (digestive fire).The tongue is an indication of either ignorance or wisdom. It reflects who you are and what you want to be. Make sure you scrape it well everyday so that a “slip of the tongue” never happens.*Marcelo Faveri, Mitsure F Hayacibara et al,A crossover study on the effects of various therapeutic approaches to morning Breath odour, Journal of Clinical Periodontology;2006;33:555-560.
GANDUSHA AND KABALA (OIL PULLING/GARGLING)
For most of us, gargling is something that we do with normal water after each meal and therapeutically, when suffering from throat ailments. But do you know that Ayurveda mentions this as a daily regimen as a part of oral hygiene? In Ayurveda, the procedure is known as Gandusha or Kabala and performed after brushing the teeth and tongue scraping. There is some difference between the two, in terms of the quantity of the liquid used and the way it is performed. But the benefits are more or less the same.In Gandusha, the medicated liquid or oil has to be taken mouthful and retained for about 3 to 5 minutes or until there is lacrimation and nasal discharge. Then it can be spitted out. But in Kabala, a comfortable quantity of medicated fluid or oil is retained in the mouth for a specific amount of time and gargled well before spitting out. Ancient Acharyas emphasize the use of Tila taila (sesame oil) for Kabala and Gandusha as a daily regimen owing to its therapeutic benefits. Modern day oil pulling can be easily practiced with sesame oil as it is easily available. If you suffer from some oral diseases like recurring mouth ulcers, gingivitis or periodontitis, the same can be performed with Triphala decoction too. Milk, Dhanyamla (fermented rice water), warm water etc. may also be used for regular practice.Ashtanga Hridayam exempts certain categories of people from brushing the teeth daily. Those who suffer from indigestion, vomiting, dyspnea, cough, fever, facial paralysis, excessive thirst, mouth ulcers, heart diseases, diseases of eyes, head and ears can skip brushing. Instead, they can opt for daily oil pulling with suitable oil or medicated liquid to maintain oral hygiene. It helps remove bad odor and is beneficial in loss of taste, loss of appetite, sore throat, dryness of mouth and cracked lips. The retention of fluid inside the mouth helps strengthen the cheek muscles and supports healthy teeth and gums.Oral mucous membrane has the ability to absorb lipid soluble substances effectively. Without any advanced research methodologies, our ancient Acharyas were able to understand this fact and thus incorporated oil pulling as a part of daily regime. Now onwards, think twice before you reach for the regular chlorhexidine mouthwash when you can go for easily available, cheap and healthy natural Ayurveda methods like Gandusha and Kabala.
DHUMAPANA AND TAMBULA SEVANA
These two procedures are some of the rarely discussed topics in Ayurveda daily regime. Tambula sevana and dhumapana literally translates to chewing of betel leaves and smoke inhalation respectively. Did that make you frown for a second for obvious reasons? Worry not. Ayurveda considers everything in the Universe as having therapeutic properties, if used correctly. The same theory is applicable to these two procedures as well.Dhumapana is the inhalation of medicated smoke either through the mouth or nose. Specialized ‘dhumavartis’ can be made using different herbs selected according to dosha predominance. As a part of oral hygiene, the fumes coming from burning turmeric, Agaru (Aquillaria malaccensis) or Guggulu (Commiphora mukul) may be inhaled through the nostrils and exhaled through the mouth. These herbs have antimicrobial and antiseptic properties which help in fighting several diseases of the oral cavity and respiratory illnesses. The procedure especially helps fight vata and kapha doshas in areas above the neck. It helps improve the quality of voice and relieves the heaviness of the head. In the present scenario, this procedure has immense importance as it helps clean the respiratory passage and purifies the inhaled air. Easily available herbs such as pure raw turmeric or Guggulu can be used for Dhumapana daily.
As a part of dinacharya, Tambula sevana should be done after Anjana (eye-salve), Nasya Karma (nasal instillation), Gandusha (oil-pulling) and Dhumapana (medicated smoke inhalation). Two washed betel leaves should be smeared with slaked lime and Khadira paste (Acacia catechu). Ingredients like Puga (Areca nut), camphor, Jathiphala (Myristica fragrans) or any other aromatic herbs are placed inside the leaves, wrapped well and administered. The first and second juice produced while chewing should be spit out as they are similar to poison and hard for digestion respectively. From the third juice onwards, it may be swallowed as it is similar to nectar and acts as rejuvenator. This type of traditional chewing of betel leaves is safe and healthy for the oral cavity and wards off foul smell. It is only when used in excess quantity or when used with toxic ingredients like tobacco that it becomes carcinogenic and can potentially cause harmful side effects.It is a common tendency for the new generation to reject age-old traditions citing the unavailability of ingredients and difficulty to practice. But what they don’t know is, many of the procedures can still be practically implemented and put to good use with necessary modifications. It only takes some thought and effort to go back to the roots. But once your health is affected it might take a lifetime to get back to normalcy. Your oral cavity is the primary entrance to a lot of things like air, water, food and even several diseases. Hence it deserves primary attention in all aspects, daily. Adopting the Ayurveda way of oral health maintenance is simple yet very effective. Remember, your branches can only reach high when your roots go deep.