The other day I was reading an article on the BBC period drama, Wolf Hall. Despite the lengths that the program-makers went to ensure historical accuracy, historians were finding fault in certain details. One detail (the straight white teeth of all the actors) was defended by Hilary Mantel, the author of book on which the series is based. Mantel insisted that a Tudor drama would be less accurate had it insisted on blackened teeth – as it was a time when sugar was yet to become widely available.
Apparently, tooth decay was mostly a disease of wealthy Westerners prior to about 1840 when sugar became cheap. Most ordinary people had excellent teeth. Another wake-up call to avoid sugar.
Sugar (or sucrose) is used by a bacteria found in the mouth (streptococcus mutans) to make a sticky polysaccharide glue that allows it to stick to the tooth surface and form plaque. Streptococcus mutans also makes lactic acid out of sucrose and other carbohydrates, and this acid dissolves the tooth enamel causing decay. It is this combination of plaque and acid that promotes dental decay. Sucrose is the only sugar that streptococcus mutans can use to form this sticky polysaccharide glue. Avoiding eating sugary foods and drinks and brushing your teeth after eating them is the best way of avoiding dental decay.
Dental hygiene is specifically addressed in Ayurveda. The ancient texts mention using special twigs to clean teeth, so the original Ayurveda experts appreciated the value of cleanliness. The toothbrush and dental floss are our modern equivalents.
Ayurveda also recommends gandusha, a sesame-oil gargle and sesame-oil massage of the gums. Oil is antimicrobial and when it penetrates the tissues of the mouth, it can inhibit bacterial growth and gum deterioration.
Edwards Smith, M.D., and scientists at Wichita State University conducted research showing that sesame-oil gargle significantly reduces bacteria in the space between teeth and gums. Researchers consider bacteria in this area to be the major cause of gum disease. (See instructions below for gandusha)
While sesame oil is traditionally recommended, gandusha can be done with other oils as well. In vitro lab studies have indicated the antibacterial activity of edible oils such as coconut oil, sesame oil and sunflower oil.
A new study was published in the Nigerian Journal of Medicine‘s March/April 2015 edition on the practice of gandusha using coconut oil. The research looked at 60 people between the ages of 16 and 18 who added the technique to their oral hygiene routine over a 30-day period. Their plaque and gum disease levels were assessed on days 1, 7, 15, and 30. After just seven days, levels of plaque and gum disease significantly reduced, and continued to decrease over a period of a month.
The researchers, from Kennur Dental College in India, chose to research coconut oil because, “Coconut oil is an easily available edible oil. It is unique because it contains predominantly medium chain fatty acids, of which 45-50 percent is lauric acid. Lauric acid has proven anti inflammatory and antimicrobial effects.”
- First, fill your mouth as full as you can with warm water. Hold this for about a half a minute to a minute. Then spit it out.
- Next, fill your mouth as full as possible with warm sesame oil. Hold it in your mouth for about a half a minute to a minute. Then dispose of it.
- Take a little oil into your mouth and gargle for a half a minute to a minute. Dispose of the oil.
- Massage the oil into your gum with your finger. Be gentle but use enough pressure for the massage to be pleasantly invigorating. Take two or three minutes to do this thoroughly.
- Finally, if you wish, you can rinse your mouth with warm water to remove any oil residue.
Please note: Although sesame oil is healthy for your gums, it can clog bathroom drains. Therefore it is a good idea to keep a small container handy to hold the used oil until you can dispose of it properly.
Incidentally, while gandusha strengthens and purifies your mouth, it also improves digestion.