Cleansing and conditioning the healthy oral cavity with no issues was done by using chewing twig from medicinal plants and trees such as neem, yashtimadhu, aamra, and khadira
From prehistoric times, oral hygiene was given utmost priority in Bharat, using chewing sticks known to keep the mouth clean. The oral cavity, which includes the tongue, teeth and whole of the mouth including the nose-mouth airway, is crucial for chewing, sucking, swallowing, tasting and feeling temperature, texture and weight, but also for talking, singing, and kissing. It is an organ involved with both sensing and action, and is intimately involved with pleasure of an individual. But it is fragile and can be damaged easily as well.
Caring for this important structure of the body was thus explained in various medical ayurvedic and yogic texts. Ten slokas are given in the Caraka Samhita on oral hygiene (Source: C.Sū.5.71-80). Highlighting the importance of prevention, Ayurveda physicians narrate various activities that enhance the health of the mouth and render it more resistant to potential damage.
Among the daily routine, known as dinacharya, habits known as Dantadhavana (danta, tooth, dhavana, procedure of cleaning, S.), were advised for this first station of food entering the body that went beyond oral care and hygiene.
Because the mouth is the first structure of our digestive tract and communicates both with the external environment and the brain and gut, it plays the important role of messenger at the very beginning of digestion. Keeping the senses and muscles, nerves and mucus in optimal function was known to directly impact the digestive system.
To keep the mouth healthy, ancient wisemen used substances that would balance the imbalanced qualities of the mouth. If the mouth was too dry, a substance that promoted moisture was used such as sesame oil. If the mouth had excess phlegm, a substance that liquefied and rid the phlegm was used, such as licorice twig (Glycyrrhiza glabra) or Karnaja twig (Pongamia pinnata). If the mouth was hot and inflamed, a cooling substance that promotes resolve of inflammation was found such as Khadira (Acacia catechu). If the mouth was wounded, a substance that promoted healing of tissue was sought such as honey. Infections were treated with natural anti-microbials like neem and turmeric. If nerve damage occurred, sesame oil with its unique penetration of microchannels and cleansing power was used. In conditions with bad mouth odour (halotosis) twigs of Dadima (Punica granatum) were used.
आपोथिताग्रं द्वौ कालौ कषायकटुतिक्तकम्||७१||
निहन्ति गन्धं वैरस्यं जिह्वादन्तास्यजं मलम्||७२||
निष्कृष्य रुचिमाधत्ते सद्यो दन्तविशोधनम्|
Source: Charaka Samhita, Sutra sthana, chapter 5, sloka 71-72
Transliteration - āpōthitāgraṁ dvau kālau kaṣāyakaṭutiktakam||71|| bhakṣayēddantapavanaṁ dantamāṁsānyabādhayan|
nihanti gandhaṁ vairasyaṁ jihvādantāsyajaṁ malam||72|| niṣkr̥ ṣya rucimādhattē sadyō dantaviśōdhanam|
Translation - Converting the tip of the herbal twigs having Rasa (taste) like katu (pungent), tikta (bitter), kashaya (astringent) into a bristle form, one must brush their teeth twice daily without hurting the gums. This will surely help in pacification of the bad odour, and toxins present on the tongue and teeth. This procedure will also aid in enhancing the appetite and purify the teeth.
Cleansing and conditioning the healthy oral cavity with no issues was done by using chewing twigs of medicinal herbs such as neem (Azadirachta indica), yashtimadhu (Glycyrrhiza glabra), aamra (Mangifera indica), and khadira (Acacia catechu), though local plants known to be safe were also used.
These chewing twigs were prescribed according to the length of an individual’s finger breadth, known as angula; 12 angula was the length of stick to be procured, individualized to each person. The stick had to be symmetrical, with no lumps or diseased portions. It was also chosen for its taste depending on the season, having rasas such as katu (pungent) to resolve infections of spring, tikta (bitter) to resolve excess salivation, heaviness or phlegm, or kashaya (astringent) to dry out the heavy phlegm after colds or infections or deep winter season.
क्षौद्रव्योषत्रिवर्गाक्तं सतैलं सैन्धवेन च ||७||
चूर्णेन तेजोवत्याश्च दन्तान्नित्यं विशोधयेत् |
एकैकं घर्षयेद्दन्तं मृदुना कूर्चकेन च ||८||
दन्तशोधनचूर्णेन दन्तमांसान्यबाधयन् |
Source: Sushruta Samhita, Chikitsa sthana, chapter 24, sloka 7-8
Transliteration - kṣaudravyōṣatrivargāktaṁ satailaṁ saindhavēna ca ||7|| cūrṇēna tējōvatyāśca dantānnityaṁ viśōdhayēt |
ēkaikaṁ gharṣayēddantaṁ mr̥ dunā kūrcakēna ca ||8|| dantaśōdhanacūrṇēna dantamāṁsānyabādhayan|
Translation - Drugs like honey, and powders of vyosha [trikatu - shunthi (Zingiber officinale), maricha (Piper nigrum), and pippali (Piper longum)] / trivarga [Twak (Cinnamomum zeylanicum), ela (Elettaria cardamomum), and patra (Cinnamomum tamala)] / tejovati choorna (Xhanthoxylum alatum) should be mixed with sesame oil, and saindhava (rock salt) and should be rubbed on each tooth slowly with the help of brush prepared from herbal twigs. These teeth purificatory herbal powders should be rubbed carefully without harming the gums.
Dantadhava was recommended twice in the daily routine, just after waking and in the late hours as part of the night routine known as ratricharya. Rinsing the mouth with water after meals prevented retainment of toxins in the mouth. Special precautions to avoid wounding tender gums suggested the use of powders, dantadhavan choorna, medicated herbs such as twak (Cinnamomum zeylanicum), ela (Elettaria cardamomum), and tejpatra (Cinnamomum tamala). These powders were mixed with honey, saindhava lavana (Rock salt), and tila taila (sesame oil) and then gently rubbed over the teeth using the medicated chewing twigs as brushes.
Consumers today prefer good tastes in their mouth. They equate menthol to fresh. They like technologically enhanced automatic plastic toothbrushes and flossing. But they have to visit the dentist frequently. On the other hand, chewing of herbs as chewing twigs seems to prevent tartar formation, enhance taste perception, and logically strengthens the gums. Most important, the ingested juices from these herbs are believed to instigate and maintain the digestive system. More studies that ground anecdotal benefits of ayurvedic chewing twigs are needed.
Recent studies also correlate oral health with an individual’s overall health. The theory is that toxins excreted by the bacteria residing in the oral cavity may trigger systemic inflammatory diseases or may worsen existing non-communicable diseases in an individual such as hypertension, diabetes or arthritis. Chronic periodontitis (inflammation of gums) is a risk factor for endocarditis and some cancers and may initiate the formation of atherosclerotic plaques or initiate auto-immune disorders.
The earliest human researchers reported in the classical texts about specific herbs with antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory and wound healing activities. Rather than focusing on molecules though, they observed the effects of specific rasas on the body when choosing herbal twigs, scrutinizing the potential role a herb would have in enhancing the appetite, improving digestive fire, purifying the blood, or aiding in digestion.
To connect substances with their effect on the body, ancient drug experts evolved the rasa panchaka, properties that showed patterns in the way they influenced the body using the dosha theory. The substances that influence both digestion in the gut and the oral cavity were tested in many people for their effects. The concept of doshas in Ayurveda refers to the effect of any substance or force on the body's functions and structure. Each of the 3 doshas - vata, pitta, kapha - are classified into five subtypes each according to the actions they exhibit. Among them, Prana vata and bodhaka kapha primarily affect the oral cavity. Prana vata has a specific role in initiating the process of swallowing, known as deglutition and of salivation, while taste perception is the function of bodhaka kapha residing mostly on the jivha or tongue. These initial functions have a substantial role in the process of digestion, absorption and then subsequently in the nourishment of the body. Chewing specific herbs are believed to help balance both prana vata and bodhaka kapha.
Without specific identified molecules, modern science wonders how chewing herbal drugs for oral hygiene impacts digestion. The multiple phytochemicals in each herb act at multiple sites and work synergistically beyond the one molecule: one organ model of modern science to provide a coordinated set of health benefits.
To eat well and achieve mindful and healthy living, a daily routine that integrates the wisdom of nature through its plants used as chewing twigs is a tried and true ancient practice as narrated in Ayurveda