Recently, we had a guest lecturer at Arbor Vitae – Leslie Alexander, author of Dental Herbalism. Just prior to the class, I purchased the book, and it came just the day before, so I was able to get it autographed in the class!
The class itself blew me away, and made me think of oral care in a whole new way. Leslie spoke about the entire mouth, what it represents, how people use it, what it can tell us about emotional/psychological/social issues, and how to treat the body by including mouth treatment in the protocol. The media portrays a beautiful and healthy mouth, smile and teeth but it’s hard to live up to those expectations without oral surgery, whitening and/or implants. Genetics play a role, but what we think of our mouth as well as what care we put into it can also affect oral health. First of all, eating sugar in any form decays the teeth. Secondly, brushing hard or with harsh bristles works away our enamel and contributes to gums receding. Healthy gums are supposed to look pink, clean and shiny, but often gums are inflamed and red from poor hygiene. People often have negative feelings associated with judging their mouths, and this contributes to self-esteem and confidence issues. They may cover their mouths with clothes or hair, or with their hands, or mumble when speaking.
Leslie Alexander explained how to properly brush all the surfaces of the teeth with a soft-bristle brush or a licorice stick, which is bacteriostatic and moistening to the mouth. She mentioned which medications dry out the mouth (anticholinergic) and advised against too much salt or baking soda, which also contribute to dryness. To combat dryness from medications or Sjogren’s syndrome, she recommends sialogogues such as prickly ash (the effects of which I felt immediately in class!). She also went over ingredients you do not want in your oral care (SLS, fluoride) and those helpful in hygiene (demulcent and anti-inflammatory herbal teas, calcium-phosphorus-magnesium, myrrh, propolis, charcoal, salt, low doses of certain essential oils). Additionally, she clarified the technique of oil pulling, which involves threading the oil through teeth in a snake-like pattern from top to bottom jaw for at least 2 minutes (apparently I’ve been doing it wrong!) for the most thorough cleaning. I was also impressed by the energetics associated with each particular tooth, which connects to a corresponding bone, joint, and organ in the body. I’ve heard of it before and this class reminded me to study it further. It’s fascinating and I definitely want to include this knowledge of holistic oral care in my practice.
I’ve had my own struggles with dental health for quite some time, and even more difficulties finding holistic ways to care for the mouth. I’ve had plenty of cavities and fillings from childhood and some in adulthood. I had fluoride seals as part of dental care after seeing hygienists. I’ve had signs of receding gumlines at my bottom canines, and had a local antibiotic put in once on the dentist’s strong recommendation. I’ve had evidence of ‘pockets’ in my back teeth, so I was told to put fluoride toothpaste in the spaces between teeth for at least 30 seconds a day. Most recently, I’ve had toothaches after chewing food and was recommended a root canal, as the tooth is most likely ‘dead.’ However, some of my holistic practitioners advised against it and so I was self-treating with homemade ‘Thieves Oil’ by mixing essential oils in coconut oil and pulling each morning. I have also started making my own toothpastes by adding Calcium-Magnesium powder to fluoride-free natural toothpaste bases, along with propolis and neem tincture. I floss and alternate with a portable water pik-alternative (Toiletree), to which I usually add some anti-inflammatory tea du jour, and I make my own mouthwash with tea/water and salt/baking soda. When my ‘dead’ tooth really hurts I put bayberry bark pieces between my cheek and gums so it absorbs via the buccal method into the affected area, and the pain subsides the next morning. I really want to avoid a root canal at any cost, and hope reading Leslie Alexander’s book will give me more insight on the matter.