By Preethi Sukumaran
After experimenting with various oral care products, and brushing techniques, Preethi Sukumaran discovers some eco-friendly remedies that actually work
2. Neem leaf powder – 3 teaspoons (Anti-bacterial)
3. Powdered Sea Salt – 6 teaspoons (Whitening, antiseptic)
4. Turmeric powder – 2.5 teaspoons (Anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, wound-healing properties)
5. Clove powder – 4.5 teaspoons (refreshing, anti-bacterial, wound healing properties)
6. Fennel seed powder – 5.5 teaspoons (refreshing, cleansing, anti-bacterial)
7. Cinnamon bark powder – 3 teaspoons (refreshing, anti-bacterial)
8. Cardamom powder – 1.5 teaspoons (refreshing, anti-bacterial)
9. Dried Indian Gooseberry (Amla) powder – 3 teaspoons (anti-bacterial, strengthening, astringent)
I was a fanatic about brushing. I brushed at least twice a day, used mouthwash, and, as advised by my dentist, started flossing. All the attention seemed to do no good to my teeth – my gums bled every time I flossed, I started developing cavities in my molars, and my dental checkups indicated that the enamel of my teeth had actually begun to wear out. I was developing sensitivity in my teeth, and was asked to switch to a special toothpaste.
After venting my frustration on the dental surgeon, he asked me if I had considered that my teeth were getting worse because of, and not in spite of, all my endless ministering. He said that the combination of the strong toothpastes, my frequent brushing, and my toothbrush were probably wearing down my enamel, exposing the nerves of my teeth, and making them more and more sensitive and prone to more cavities.
I started to relentlessly search for every manner of natural cure, and dental care that I had heard of. I have made my own mouthwashes and rinses, experimented with different kinds of toothpastes and tooth powders to arrive at some sort of framework to take care of my teeth and gums.
The return of the plaque
Most people have heard about plaque. Advertising calls it that ‘unsightly yellowish cement-like substance’ that forms on teeth. Toothpastes have declared war on plaque and now have whitening and micro-polishing variants that promise to get your teeth sparkling white.
Dentists disagree – they believe a quarterly cleanup is the only way to clean out plaque. I have endured several bouts of rather painful plaque-cleaning, wishing I were elsewhere. Plaque is also touted as the cause for tooth decay. Alarming images of teeth crumbling add to people and dentists hating it even more. Nevertheless, plaque always returns. Why?
What is plaque?
Plaque is formed by communities of oral bacteria that try to attach themselves to the smooth surface/enamel of teeth. Plaque, in western/allopathic dentistry has been seen as a contaminating substance, and not aesthetic, so cosmetic dentistry procedures like teeth bleaching and whitening exist to remove the ‘unsightly cement-like growth’ from the teeth.
Popular advertising furthers this notion encouraging people to find white teeth attractive – the modern toothpaste has also been designed on this principle. Half the contents of the modern toothpaste are abrasive particles used to dislodge plaque from the teeth, and micro polish the enamel. Frequent brushing with this can itself lead to enamel wear and tear, causing increased sensitivity in teeth.
Targeted plaque removal causes other concerns. Oral microbiologists speculate on the little known nature of dental plaque. Dental plaque is a bio-film, an aggregate of micro-organisms where the cells adhere to each other and living surfaces like teeth. These cells are embedded on a self-produced bio medium composed of DNA, polysaccharides, and proteins.
This bio film is a matrix of polymers, which are partly contributed by the host (the human being) and partly by the bacterial community. This dental bio-film contributes to the normal development of the host’s defense mechanism and physiology.
In a normal healthy oral cavity, plaque forms in a stable and orderly fashion, comprising a diverse microbial composition – up to 25,000 different species of bacteria, which remains stable over time. In situations when dental cavities arise, it is found that the bacterial community begins to shift towards acidogenic and acid-tolerating bacterial species like mutant streptococci and lactobacilli. This increase of acidogenic and acid-tolerating bacteria in the oral cavity is linked to two behavioral patterns:
Gulping food without chewing
When food is eaten quickly without enough chewing, enough saliva is not produced in the mouth. The composition of human saliva is a biochemical marvel that contains, besides water, enzymes that are essential in starting the process of digestion of starches, and fat. These enzymes also help break down food particles trapped within the crevices of the teeth, helping prevent tooth decay. So hurried eating + lack of chewing = potential tooth decay
Increased consumption of processed food
Increase in sweet, acidic, and fatty food (read processed food, maida, cola, biscuits, and mostly anything that you have bought in a supermarket) creates a highly acidic environment in the mouth, promoting the growth of only acid-tolerating bacteria in the dental bio film. Simply put, eating the wrong food makes the mouth toxic for the good bacteria to survive, and makes it a place where only acidic species survive.
The law of tooth decay therefore reads:
Hurried eating + no chewing + wrong food = tooth decay. Unfortunately, the solution given for dental problems is often a special toothpaste. Pharmacy shelves are full of sparkling toothpastes with different flavors, each promising different benefits. A closer look at the ingredients however, makes for some disturbing reading.
What does toothpaste contain?
Toothpastes contain abrasives (up to 50 per cent), fluoride, surfactants or detergents, and water (20 – 40 per cent). The abrasive elements in toothpaste are mostly mini particles of aluminium hydroxide, calcium carbonate, silica, or zeolites, to help remove dental plaque.
Apart from abrasives, surfactants or detergents are the next big part of toothpaste. One of the most common ingredients that you will find in toothpaste is SLS – sodium lauryl sulphate, or its cousins SLES (sodium laureth sulphate).
SLS is a cheap surfactant that foams and acts as a degreasing agent, which is used in garages to remove grease from car engines. In the same way, it removes oil from skin leaving it dry. It also denatures skin protein thinning down the skin barrier, making way for the possible entry of other contaminants into the deeper layers of the skin.
SLS is especially worrying in toothpastes. The oral mucosa layer is much thinner than skin on your face or head – and has a rich network of blood vessels immediately behind the layer of mucosa. This is why sub lingual tablets are so effective – because of the thinness of the skin, and the dense blood vessels behind the skin, medicines get absorbed extremely quickly into the blood stream.
Therefore, using toothpaste that contains SLS, a known skin protein denaturer and drier, is extremely worrying. Tests show a statistically significant correlation between mouth ulcers/canker sores with using a toothpaste containing SLS.
The right way to clean
The best description of teeth cleaning I have ever read, advised that teeth should be gently and finely cleaned like cleaning a fine piece of muslin, and not scrubbed like dirty vessels. So too, teeth should be cleaned using a fine paste/powder. The high amount of abrasives in most modern toothpastes remove the enamel layer of the teeth quickly, exposing the sensitive nerves below. Apart from the worrying properties of toothpastes, the act of using them with a toothbrush acts as the last straw for those troubled with cavity-prone or sensitive teeth. The bristles of the toothbrush are not sensitive themselves, and depend upon the user to control the pressure of the bristles on the teeth and gums. Brushing the teeth is usually a mechanical action, when the brusher is barely awake, and is mostly done in a hurry. In this scenario, it is possible to brush fast and hard, treating the teeth like dirty vessels, instead of a piece of fine muslin cloth.
Dentists are aware of this too – they usually recommend using a toothbrush with soft bristles to reduce enamel wear and tear. However, even this is not enough to arrest this wear and tear. Thinner enamel makes it easier for cavities to develop as well.
The traditional way
The mouth and tongue are considered a gateway to diagnosis in ayurveda. Ayurvedic doctors say that the state of the mouth reflects the state of the body, and advise eating the right food in moderation, along with taking good care of the mouth, teeth, and gums.
The first change I made was to use my finger for brushing my teeth (as it was done long ago) instead of a toothbrush. The benefits of this are many: The finger is softer on the teeth compared to a brush. The finger is also more mobile and sensitive and can navigate the whole mouth including difficult to reach places like the back of the molars. Gums also need a massage as they hold the teeth together, and the finger is ideally suited to give the gums a massage as well.
After this, I added a new step to my oral care routine. I started my morning by swishing with a tablespoon of cold-pressed, organic, sesame oil. This technique is also called oil-pulling and is highly recommended by many alternative therapists. Prescribed in the ayurvedic texts, it is not just helpful for removing the toxins accumulated in the body, but also for strengthening the vocal chords. You would need just a tablespoon of oil to do this. Try to swirl the oil vigorously around your entire mouth, concentrating on areas that feel sore or tender for about three to five minutes before spitting out the oil. The color and texture of the oil changes after being in the mouth – it turns yellow and soapy.
After this, I then proceed to ‘brush’ my teeth with my index finger with a natural/ayurvedic toothpowder. I pay attention to my gums and teeth, and after the whole exercise is done, I spend another two minutes massaging my gums with my thumb and index finger and finish up by gargling in plain water after cleaning my tongue with a tongue scraper.
You can make your own natural tooth powder with ingredients available in your kitchen with a little care and patience.
Instructions on creating the tooth powder and ingredient handling:
Sieve all the powders together and mix well to create your own natural, vegan tooth powder.
You could also buy the raw materials yourself and grind them at home to ensure better quality and freshness. If you are grinding the materials yourself, pound each ingredient separately in a mortar and pestle before grinding them one at a time in a mixer grinder. Remember to grind them in short bursts so that they do not heat up, and allow the powders to cool before resuming grinding.
Each of these ingredients have a different particle size and some are particularly difficult to grind, like turmeric. So once all the ingredients have been ground well, mix all the powders together and sieve them using a fine sieve so that the final product has the same particle size throughout.
The final tooth powder should be extremely soft and fine, like wheat flour, with no coarse particles in it. In the case of turmeric, it is advisable to buy dried turmeric sticks and grind them yourself. All the turmeric powder commercially available is made by boiling the turmeric sticks in water, and then drying and powdering them to get fine, even sized particles.
This reduces the medicinal properties of the turmeric greatly which is critical in this tooth powder.
Using and storing the tooth powder
Bottle the tooth powder in a clean, dry glass jar. If stored correctly, the flavor can last for more than a year. Use a clean dry spoon to dispense the tooth powder when using it every day.
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