Ayurveda is the ancient “science of life'' that is believed to have originated over 5,000 years ago in India.1 A major part of Ayurveda is forming daily habits to prevent disease, and as dental hygienists, we specialize in preventing disease. We can instill knowledge in our patients and peers about the symbiotic relationship between the mouth and the rest of the body.
Practicing Ayurveda allows us to create helpful daily habits that will benefit physical and mental health. There are numerous Ayurvedic practices that contribute to better oral health and in turn, better overall health. Many people find that incorporating these practices into their routines dramatically benefits their oral health.
Ayurveda is a comprehensive approach to health that considers each person as their own individual constitution, with particularly unique characteristics, qualities, emotions, and genetic factors. Ayurveda restores the innate intelligence of the body and awareness for healing.2 Considering this, an Ayurvedic practitioner or doctor can create a specific protocol for each person based on their current imbalance. The goal is to neutralize any imbalances in a person. For example, a person with eczema and arthritis will have a different protocol than a person with acne and bloating.
Imbalances fluctuate throughout life. Ayurveda strongly recommends creating a daily routine that will keep a person in the most balanced state possible. These routines include specific recommendations for the person and may involve herbal supplements. There are various practices that can be performed without seeing an Ayurvedic practitioner or doctor.
Some DIY Ayurveda
Ayurveda separates a person into three subtypes, or doshas, that carry out specific functions of the body and mind. These doshas are Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. Everyone contains each dosha, but one or two of them usually show up more prominently. We can tell through a person's signs and symptoms when that dosha is imbalanced. Kapha dosha is what governs the oral cavity. Kapha has five different subtypes, one being Bodhaka Kapha, which governs the mouth.3 Bodhaka Kapha:
- Initiates digestion via enzymes in the mouth
- Regulates oral bacteria
- Lubricates oral mucosa
- Supports speech and vocal cords
- Receives taste
- Supports immune function
According to Ayurveda, regulating Bodhaka Kapha supports the health of vital organs. Bodhaka Kapha initiates digestion through enzymes in the mouth, regulates oral bacteria, lubricates oral mucosa, supports speech and vocal cords, receives taste, and supports immune function through the tonsils. When Bodhaka Kapha is properly cared for, one has an enhanced sense of taste and improved tissue and organ health.4 So, how can we support Bodhaka Kapha and keep our mouths and bodies healthy?
Use a tongue scraper
According to eastern medicine, the tongue is connected to various organs of the body, and we can tell a great deal about a person's health by their tongue. Tongues may have fissures, indentations, redness, dryness, a coating, or other variations. Tongue scraping removes the bacterial buildup and helps regulate the oral microbiome. By removing harmful bacteria, we create a better environment in the mouth and lessen the risk for gingival diseases and tooth decay.5 This also helps with halitosis (bad breath). In Ayurveda, a tongue scraper is a crucial part of your morning routine.6
Oil pulling is becoming a more popular health trend; however, it has been around for centuries. In Ayurveda, it is thought to be a contributing factor in the prevention of many diseases. There are a number of studies done to prove the efficacy of oil pulling. It is not recommended by the American Dental Association. However, we do know that coconut oil is antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and lubricating for the oral tissues. Oil pulling with coconut oil is popular in the West, likely due to its taste, yet sesame oil is traditional in Ayurvedic medicine. A study showed that coconut oil can be compared to chlorhexidine in decreasing Streptococcus mutans, the most common organism that leads to cavities.7
The act of swishing coconut or sesame oil in the mouth is thought to balance the oral microbiome by removing bad bacteria and preventing halitosis. About half a tablespoon of coconut oil should be swished in the mouth for a few minutes. There is debate about how long to swish, but the consensus is between three and 20 minutes. The oil should then be spit into the garbage, compost, or outdoors because it can clog drains if it’s spit into the sink. It is a great addition to any oral care routine. Oil pulling is not meant to replace traditional brushing and flossing but can help with reducing oral bacteria, keeping inflammation at bay, and helping the mouth stay lubricated, which is very helpful for patients who suffer from xerostomia.
Healthy and seasonal diet
Ayurveda teaches that everyone benefits from eating seasonal whole foods. Each person should eat according to their particular constitution/dosha, and work toward balance. For example, if someone is generally warm, has sensitive skin, is often thirsty, has a quick temper, and is very ambitious, Ayurveda says this person is predominantly Pitta. It is best for them to eat cooling foods, drink plenty of water, stay away from spicy foods that heat them up, and practice relaxation techniques such as restorative yoga and mindful meditation.
This is just one example of how Ayurvedic practices help balance each individual based on their current state and to benefit their overall health. A person's dosha (Vata, Pitta, Kapha) may be thoroughly determined by a practitioner or doctor, but there is a general understanding of the signs and symptoms of each constitution. A person may be able to relate to one of them strongly by answering a few questions.
Eating seasonally is a ritual in Ayurvedic medicine because each season has a different effect on the body.8 Ayurveda teaches that avoiding nature's natural rhythms and cycles will lead to dysfunction and disease.9 Seasonal eating is believed to be a preventive health measure.
Why pursue this ancient practice?
Ayurveda has much to offer but ultimately is about connecting to the best version of ourselves. It takes time and patience. Much of modern-day healing is geared toward quick fixes, a bandage or pill to hide the symptoms. Ayurveda works toward the root cause of imbalances in the body and mind for a more long-lasting remedial approach. Meditation, pranayama (breathing), and daily exercise are huge components to mental health in Ayurvedic recommendations. These are a few ways to incorporate Ayurvedic techniques into everyday life, but it takes motivation and the desire to make healthy decisions.
As dental hygienists, we are prevention specialists. We can share simple and exceptionally helpful recommendations with our patients so they’ll have not only healthy mouths but can be educated about living healthy lives. Ayurveda has been around for thousands of years. Many modern doctors and practitioners may question its benefits, but we can learn about what has worked for many people and then implement what might make sense for us in each circumstance.
Tongue scraping is beneficial for everyone to remove bacteria and prevent halitosis. It is not standard of care to recommend oil pulling, but it can be beneficial and gentle enough for patients with dry mouth or inflammation if other recommendations don’t work. Diet is a huge factor in oral care and by eating seasonal, whole foods and home-cooked meals, we follow Ayurvedic recommendations. Ayurveda promotes proper oral care routines and clean diets. By following these simple yet useful lifestyle habits, we and our patients can live a thriving and fulfilled way of life.
Editor's note: This article appeared in the July 2022 print edition of RDH magazine. Dental hygienists in North America are eligible for a complimentary print subscription. Sign up here.
- Sharma H. Ayurveda: Science of life, genetics, and epigenetics. 2016;37(2):87-91. doi: 4103/ayu.AYU_220_16
- Understanding the 5 subdoshas of Kapha. 2022. Mapi. https://mapi.com/blogs/articles/understanding-the-5-subdoshas-of-kapha
- Mischke M. The Importance of Oral Health. Banyan Botanicals. Updated 2022. https://www.banyanbotanicals.com/info/ayurvedic-living/living-ayurveda/health-guides/the-importance-of-oral-health/
- Christensen G J. Why clean your tongue? J Amer Dent Assn. 1998;129(11):1605-1607. org/10.14219/jada.archive.1998.0109
- The benefits of tongue scraping. Botanicals Banyan. June 9, 2021. https://www.banyanbotanicals.com/info/ayurvedic-living/living-ayurveda/lifestyle/benefits-tongue-scraping/.
- Peedikayil FC, Remy V, Seena J, et al. Comparison of antibacterial efficacy of coconut oil and chlorhexidine on Streptococcus mutans: an in vivo study. J Int Soc Prev Community Dent. 2016;6(5):447-452. doi:10.4103/2231-0762.192934
- Thakkar J, Chaudhari S, Sarkar, PK. (2011, October). Ritucharya: Answer to lifestyle disorders. 2011 Oct-Dec; 32(4): 466–471. doi:4103/0974-8520.96117
- Reist PL. The basics of Ritucharya: Ayurveda's secrets of seasonal eating. July 29, 2019. Art of Living. https://www.artofliving.org/us-en/the-basics-of-ritucharya-ayurveda-secrets-of-seasonal-eating