According to the World Health Organization, 3.5 billion people worldwide and 3 out of 4 folks living in middle-income countries have oral health issues. In America, a whopping 46% of adults over 30 require oral hygiene care for gum issues, suggesting a concerning compromise in mouth immunity.
Thankfully, most mouth microbes are beneficial, but keeping them healthy requires attention. When you experience bad breath or a dry mouth, for example, these are the first signs that your dental hygiene and mouth immunity are in decline. Painful or bleeding gums when flossing is another sign that bad bacteria may be the new mouth majority. The real issue here is that the opportunistic, unhealthy bacteria do not stop at the gum line. They are the cause of numerous health concerns within the body.
In This Article
The Dangers of Plaque
Perhaps the most dangerous bacterium is the Streptococcus mutans, which is most famous for creating a biofilm around teeth called plaque. When such bacteria find a good home, they secrete a glue-like substance that hardens into what we know as dental plaque. While good teeth cleaning can get rid of the plaque stuck to your teeth and gums, Streptococcus mutans will start rebuilding the homes of plaque as your leave the dentist’s office. With your first starchy meal or sugary snack, it will turn these sugars into an acid that eats away at your tooth enamel. These sugar-eating bacteria can not only weaken teeth but can also lead to feelings of anxiety or depression. In a recent study published in the journal Nature, depression and suicidal thoughts were linked to a change in the microbiome of the mouth in college students… so, see your dentist regularly and keep your mouth, teeth, and gums healthy.
In addition to mood issues, bacteria like Streptococcus mutans may be causing more health risks once it finds their way to the brain and heart. It does this by entering the bloodstream through the gums. A Norwegian study evaluated almost 4,000 participants between 63 to 65 years old. An alarming 87% of them had a buildup of plaque in the carotid arteries. Other studies have found that Streptococcus mutans are responsible for plaque buildup in the heart. This plaque is linked to 69% of heart valve cases and 74% of cases of coronary arterial plaque. To make matters worse, researchers are now finding that this same bacterium is linked to plaque buildup in the brain, which may be linked to cognitive decline.
Both Ayurveda and modern science agree that the mouth is your first line of defense against an invasion of undesirable microbes. Inside the mouth, a unique environment must be maintained to support one of the body’s most important protective barriers: the seal between your teeth and gums. While western medicine suggests using mouthwashes that kill 99% of all mouth bacteria, these kill the good microbes along with the bad. While mouthwash offers protection from undesirable bacteria, Ayurveda focuses on restoring the environment of the mouth to its normal, healthy state which provides natural protection.
Restoring a Healthy Mouth Environment for Mouth Immunity
In the mouth, the first line of protection is found in our saliva. As part of the body’s innate immune system, the mouth pumps out about two quarts of saliva each day. Saliva contains enzymes to start the digestion of food-based fats and starches. It is also loaded with natural antimicrobial agents such as hydrogen peroxide, lactoferrin, and lysozymes that fight off harmful bacteria.
Declining mouth immunity and lowered saliva production often results in a dry mouth. A dry mouth is a common issue affecting 10% of the general population and 25% of the elderly. Waking up with a dry mouth from mouth breathing or snoring is some of the first signs. A dry mouth may also be a side effect of many medications. A lack of saliva can alter the innate immunity of the mouth and respiratory tract, increasing the risk of poor oral hygiene and opportunistic bacteria or yeast such as candida.
See also Starve Your SIBO and Candida
Five Ayurvedic Tips to Boost Mouth Immunity
1. Gandusha or Oil Pulling
Oil pulling is a process of swishing certain oils in the mouth for 10-15 minutes per day. We recommend using LifeSpa’s Swish formula, which is a combination of organic sesame oil, organic coconut oil, turmeric, and peppermint oil. Oil pulling has been shown to support the proliferation of healthy mouth bacteria, restoring natural mouth immunity and protecting against imbalances of Streptococcus mutans. A restored natural mouth environment from oil pulling has also been shown to decrease volatile sulfur compounds that are responsible for bad breath.
See also The Truth about Oil Pulling
2. Tongue Scraping
Tongue scraping is a daily Ayurvedic practice done each morning upon rising. It is the simple practice of scraping your tongue before brushing your teeth. Its purpose is to remove the accumulation of bad bacteria that can build up each night. When done first thing in the morning, tongue scraping can also reduce the volatile sulfur compounds linked to bad breath while boosting metabolism at the same time. It is best to use a copper tongue scraper, as it is the only FDA-approved antiseptic metal.
3. Nose Breathing During Sleep
When the mouth is open during sleep, the air will dry out the mouth, reducing salivary secretions and altering the mouth’s natural environment. Without adequate saliva, opportunistic bacteria can flourish, creating biofilms that are directly linked to compromised mouth immunity. I recommend taping the mouth at night to encourage nose breathing. To do this, you can find 3M Micropore Tape for Sensitive Skin in most grocery stores. Place a one-inch-long strip vertically from under the nose to the middle of the chin (just below the lip). This way you can still breathe through the sides of your mouth. Nose breathing at night also produces a powerful antimicrobial gas called nitric oxide that is produced in the paranasal sinuses. When the mouth is open, you produce none of this beneficial nitric oxide gas.
4. Fennel and Cardamon Seed Lozenges
Sucking on fennel and cardamom seeds is an age-old remedy supporting normal saliva production. Studies show that after five minutes of sucking on either fennel seeds or cardamom seedpods, the pH of the mouth was reduced, boosting the natural protective properties of the saliva. Both seeds have been used as a breath freshener and as an antagonistic to Streptococcus mutans in support of oral hygiene.
5. Neem and Amalaki: Ayurvedic Mouthwash and Tooth Care
Traditionally, frayed ends of neem sticks were used as toothbrushes. We now have science that suggests neem can inhibit mouth biofilms that cause plaque and poor oral hygiene. Amalaki can be used as a mouth rinse to support the proliferation of beneficial bacteria and to support the growth of new healthy tissue in the mouth, gums, and oral cavity.
Additional Tips for Saliva Production and Combating a Dry Mouth
- Avoid or reduce caffeine and alcohol intake.
- Chew your food until the taste is gone—then swallow.
- Avoid sugary foods and sweets as they feed bad bacteria.
- Hydrate with 6-8 glasses of warm or room temperature water per day.
- Sip plain hot water every 10-20 minutes throughout the day for two weeks to rehydrate yourself.
- Chew xylitol gum after meals, as it combats bad bacteria.