Did you know that our mouths are the first line of defense when it comes to protecting our immune system? We often think of cavities (tooth decay) as a surface issue, but unwanted bacteria can enter our blood stream through our mouth and potentially impact other parts of our body. We know that brushing our teeth at least twice a day, flossing and routine dental visits are imperative for oral health. But there are other amazing supplemental therapies that can help our teeth become stronger and whiter without the aches and pains of teeth whitening products or expensive price tags. One of my current favorites? Oil pulling! But I’m getting ahead of myself. First…
Tooth Decay 101
Did you know that tooth decay is largely preventable? Even so, it remains the most prevalent chronic disease in both children and adults. Dental caries (or tooth decay) is an infection, bacterial in origin, that leads to the gradual demineralization of enamel, which in turn destroys the structure of the tooth. So, what can you do?
3 Strategies for An Awesome, Healthy Smile
Strategy #1: Oil Pulling
Oil pulling has been used for thousands of years in Ayurvedic medicine. It involves swishing or “pulling” oil in your mouth for a period of time. Because plaque is fat soluble, the oil is able to grab hold of it and remove those unwanted bacteria and toxins. Oil acts as the perfect mouthwash! Oil pulling also naturally whitens teeth, improves gums and decreases bad breath! Some people have even seen an improvement in their skin conditions, asthma, headaches and hormone imbalances, although research is limited.
Swish one tablespoon of vegetable-based oil, preferably coconut, sesame or olive, in your mouth for 15-20 minutes (no exceptions). The oil will get thicker as it mixes with saliva. Spit it out in the trash can (oil can clog drains). DO NOT SWALLOW since bacteria and toxins have hopefully accumulated in the oil. Rinse well with warm water. Then brush your teeth and/or scrape your tongue (read below).
My Personal Experience
I prefer coconut oil for the taste, even though you need to heat it up a bit beforehand since it’s solid at room temperature. After a month, my teeth are noticeably whiter! And I have to say, I love using a natural product rather than mouthwash, which has up to 13 ingredients, including colorants. The biggest challenge is finding the time, but I suggest multitasking! If I do my swishing while showering or getting ready, it fits into my busy day.
Strategy #2: Use a Tongue Cleaner or Scraper
Also taken from Ayurveda practices, this U-shaped utensil, usually made of plastic or stainless steel (I prefer steel), removes bacteria and build-up from the surface of your tongue. It is touted for preventing bad breath, helping to liven your taste buds and reduce cravings. The tongue scraper actually helps to get rid of the taste of previously eaten food, which helps reduce cravings as well as improves taste.
Apply slight pressure and use the rounded cleaning edge to scrape gently down the tongue. Scrape 2-3 times a day after brushing your teeth.
Strategy #3: De-Acidify Your Mouth
What a mouthful! (Pun intended) Bacteria feeds off of fermentable carbohydrates and produces acid that leads to tooth demineralization. Fermentable carbohydrates include candy, cookies, cakes, juices, soda, sweetened coffee, chips, pretzels and even fruit.
- Eat foods that do NOT produce acid, such as protein-rich foods (eggs, fish, meats, poultry), vegetables, fats and sugarless gum. These foods naturally aid in the production of saliva, which helps neutralize the acidic environment, has antimicrobial properties and builds tooth enamel.
- Avoid eating/drinking continuously. Between meals and snacks, brush your teeth, oil pull or wash out your mouth with water.
- Combine acidifying foods with non-acidifying (alkaline) foods to help increase salivary flow.
- Be careful with medications that cause dry mouth (400 or more!), especially the elderly who use eight medications, on average.
What are your tips for a beautiful, healthy mouth?
Written by Alanna Cabrero, MS, RD, CDN
Originally posted on NYHRC Tumblr
Karmally, Wahida. Nutrition & Oral Health: What dietitians should know. PPT presentation. ConAgra Foods Science Institute.
Oil Pulling: a natural and traditional way of whitening teeth and boosting oral health. Wellness Mama.