No matter what we try to do to downplay its importance to us, even as we cover up with masks, we just can’t hide how much a smile means to us. Even if we’re only seeing it in the bathroom mirror these days, the health of our teeth, our gums, our tongue and the quality of our breath is such an intimate and ever-present part of our health that we can’t help but obsess over it. Any time something goes wrong inside our mouth, be it scalding our tongue on hot tea, chipping a molar or feeling the onset of a mouth ulcer, our tongue spends its day checking and rechecking the site of the injury – until the area heals and we go back to stressing about other things in our lives.
What A Pain In The Mouth
Your mouth as it turns out is literally humming with nociceptors, or pain perceiving nerve endings, such that the slightest injury or insult can render acute eye-watering episodes. Stranger still is that these nociceptors inexplicably can’t distinguish between chillies and actual flames – the body generates the same response to heat from either source. And the final weirdness is that even with that lack of distinction, your brain decides to sense chillies as pleasurable heat (for most of us, and to differing degrees), unlike how it feels if someone lights a candle in there. But we digress…
Why Do I Care About Dental Health
Placing such importance on oral health shouldn’t be seen as mere vanity, the correlation between a healthy mouth and a healthy body is all too real. Study after study has linked oral cavities and the bacteria that cause them, with heart disease. In fact, those same bacteria have actually been found migrating to around the body in cases of heart attack and stroke where they trigger the inflammation that is the precursor to many serious cardiac events. Given the rich capillary supply that feeds our gums and our tongue, it’s perhaps not that big a surprise that infections in the mouth might lead to bigger issues with our health. We know with respiratory infections, how serious things can get if they’re left unchecked and just the same, with the oral cavity being such a prominent entry point for bacteria and all sorts of bugs from the environment, it makes sense that we should place a high priority on keeping our teeth, gums and tongue as healthy as possible.
Oral Dysbiosis – The Downside Of COVID Mask Wearing Protocols
With the advent of mask-wearing, and the likelihood that it’s here to stay for the foreseeable future we’re getting exposed to more of our own breath than ever before. Just like the recycled air on planes that see us coming back from holidays with more than just a suitcase full of happy memories, the bacteria that we expel in our breath just isn’t suitable for breathing back in. And the concentration of this bacterial load in our mouth is leading to an epidemic of what dentists are calling ‘covid mouth’ – a bit like dysbiosis in our gut, where the conversations around the microbiome feel more familiar, – an imbalance of bacteria throughout the mouth that leads to more tooth sensitivity, more cavities and generally a higher rate of inflammation in the blood vessels that line our mouth, which as we’ve explored isn’t something we want to live with for the sake of our long term health. Even in the short term, a dysbiotic dental environment leaves us open to respiratory infections, which is ultimately the reason behind wearing masks in the first place (protecting us and others from COVD-19), so it seems counterproductive to be wearing a mask to prevent transmission on infection while creating an environment that fosters bad bacteria that have already slipped in the door…
So now for a solution or two.
Oral health has always been a big focus in India. For whatever reason, they seem to have been early adopters of the notions around maintaining a clean mouth, and some of their practices are really powerful and simple protocols that we can harness to assist in balancing the microbiome in our mouth.
1. Tongue Scraping
This sounds awful but really isn’t sore at all. Most of us now own toothbrushes which, on the reverse side of the head from the bristles, feature a nobbly bit of rubber designed to help us brush our tongues. Those of you that have done this or do it on a regular basis – I salute you – rarely have I come across a less comfortable sensation pitched as a healthcare routine, and I for one find it like nails on a chalkboard – it at once puts my nerves on edge and makes me want to gag. So for the rest of us, there’s this magic thing called a tongue scraper!
Plastic tongue scrapers exist, but we prefer to stick to one made from stainless steel – the less plastic in our mouths the better we feel – and the process is a bit different to brushing your tongue as rather than dislodge and move around the bacteria that build up overnight, the scraper draws the detritus straight off the front of the tongue. In the system of Ayurveda, the overnight accumulation was known as ‘ama’, basically, the substance that is responsible for the initiation of disease states, and it was considered a highly toxic thing that should never be swallowed. We think once you start tongue scraping you’ll agree!
Tongue scraping is a quick effort – just a minute or two before you brush your teeth spent sloughing off the mildly gross coating from your tongue. The only tricky bit is getting far enough back with your scraper whilst suppressing your gag reflex. Start gently with this one, nobody needs another needless tongue scraper choking to hit the headlines! Rinse after scraping and then brush your teeth as normal, enjoying the day-long freshness that results from tending to a healthy tongue.
2. Oil Pulling
I remember the first time we wrote on this topic over a decade ago. Levels of willingness to swill a full tablespoon of oil around one’s mouth, along with understanding and familiarity with the principles and practices of oil pulling were…well somewhere sub-equatorial. These days things are different. You gang have, along with us, been exposed to a lot more of the ancient medicine traditions and wisdom from the east. And with that has come an openness to all that these amazing systems have to offer. Oh and then there were those articles on goop.com … whichever one worked we’re happy because it means that we can talk to you about oil pulling without you screwing up your face in greasy disgust.
Traditionally, sesame oil was used for this ritual, but coconut oil is also on record as having been used in Ayurveda too. Sesame oil has an ability to draw heat and impurities from the rich capillary network that runs around our mouth, while coconut oil has some powerful anti-microbial properties and is rich in sulphur compounds that may support tooth remineralisation. We think that the really key point here is just to do it and do it regularly – no matter what oil you choose. Start with 5ml (1 teaspoon) and progress towards 1 full tablespoon (15ml). If you hate the feeling of one oil, try another. Just make sure that whatever oil you choose, it is definitely organic and cold-pressed. Using a potentially heat damaged, or pesticide-contaminated oil just negates the benefit straight away.
3. The Xylitol Mouth Rinse
This is a funky one. Dentists and veterinarians have known about the antimicrobial properties of xylitol for aeons now, but for some reason, it’s taken decades to trickle down to the rest of us. Perhaps using a mouthwash that’s made mostly out of a sweetener is slightly counter-intuitive, but with testimonials from folk like Dr Rhonda Patrick, a prominent US-based biochemist, you can be sure that making a solution of xylitol is not some hair-brained Hopsack excursion into fringe health practices, it is in fact a verifiable oral care routine. Xylitol kills Streptococcus Mutans – one of the main bacteria responsible for the development of oral cavities. Rhonda started chewing xylitol gum after her dentist informed her of the presence of two “irreversible” cavities. All while she was pregnant. So she wanted to clean up her oral care routine, and clear out some of the potentially toxic products. So she went hardcore for the xylitol gum. And within a couple of months, she went back for a re-scan with her dentist. The cavities had literally disappeared. Yup. GONE. Now in the course of her ‘experiment’, she also gave herself a TMJ disorder from chewing so much gum. We recommend sticking to a gentle xylitol mouth rinse to save your jaws from the work.
So with all that oral health jibber jabber, we aren’t endorsing you dropping your toothpaste in place of chewing gum, but we hope you can find a few moments in the morning to swill a bit of coconut oil (just stick it beside the conditioner in the shower…?). Drop us a line with any queries you may have and please remember this article isn’t intended as medical advice and shouldn’t replace the advice of your doctor or medical professional.