by Stephanie Chambers

canstockphoto5041806 lady doing Ayurvedic oil pulling

According to Ayurveda, it is beneficial to regularly apply oil to the various orifices in our body (mouth, nose, ears, anus, vagina, eyes). In this blog, we will look at oiling the mouth. Some research has confirmed the benefits of these practices. Sometimes, these oils can be herbalized using essential oils to achieve specific effects. 

Some believe that the tongue is like the feet in terms of reflexology, and that each segment of the human tongue is linked to specific parts of the body, so oiling the mouth can have an effect on the body as a whole. In Ayurveda, to maintain the good health of teeth and gums, various steps are involved:

Jiva Sodhana (tongue scraping)

First thing in the morning, generally after brushing your teeth, you should scrape the tongue using a tongue scraper (ideally made of gold for Vata dosha, silver for Pitta, Copper for Kapha, or tin, brass or stainless steel for Tri-Dosha). Scrape from the back of the tongue to the front. Rinse the white mucous off the scraper between scrapes. Then rinse your mouth.

The Charaka Samhita (one of the classic texts of Ayurveda) says, “The dirt which is collected at the root of the tongue creates obstructions in respiration and produces a foul smell, hence one should scrape the tongue.”

Once you get used to tongue scraping, it is hard to imagine not doing it. I know myself that now even if I wake up during the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, I always scrape my tongue, because I don’t like having my tongue feel coated.

Gandusha (oiling the mouth) 

After scraping your tongue, you should fill your mouth with warm water and hold it for half a minute to a minute, and then spit it out. This makes the mouth more receptive to absorbing the oil, which is the next step. This oiling of the mouth is known as “Gandusha”. This is said to strengthen and purify the mouth and improve digestion (as the first step of digestion is mastication - the breaking down of the food in the mouth). 

Fill your mouth with a teaspoon or two of pure cold pressed organic sesame oil, building up each day to more so that eventually the mouth is completely filled with oil. Hold it in the mouth and swish it around for a half minute to a minute. Do this twice a day and/or build up to do this for 3 to 5 minutes or 10 to 20 minutes, especially if you have dental issues like receding gums. Be careful not to swallow or inhale the oil. Spit this out into a trash can or a small container lined with plastic and paper towel inside of it. Do not spit it out into the drains or toilet, as it will clog your pipes and also leave a messy residue. 

The longer you swish the oil about, the thinner and whiter it should become. If the oil still looks yellow when you spit it out, it is because you haven’t had it in your mouth for long enough. 

According to Charaka Samhita: “It is beneficial for strength of jaws, depth of voice, flabbiness of face, improving gustatory sensation and good taste for food. One used to this practice never gets dryness of throat, nor do his lips ever get cracked; his teeth will never be carious and will be deep rooted; he will not have any toothache nor will his teeth set on edge by sour intake; his teeth can chew even the hardest eatables” Ch V-78 to 80

Some research by Asokan S et al (2009)1 showed that regularly oiling the mouth and/or gargling with sesame oil (i.e. oil pulling) caused a significant reduction in plaque index, modified gingival scores, and total colony count of aerobic microorganisms in the plaque of adolescents with plaque-induced gingivitis. 

Essential oils can be added to the sesame oil. For example, up to 15 drops of Myrrh Essential Oil or Tea Tree Essential Oil can be added to a tablespoon of sesame oil (or another oil like coconut oil). Myrrh has antibacterial properties which is said to make it good for respiratory problems and for fighting germs. Tea Tree has antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal qualities.

Add up to 5 drops of Cardamom or Black Pepper essential oils per tablespoon of sesame oil can be added for people of Kapha body type. 

Cypress Essential Oil has traditionally been used for a sore throat. Place 1 drop on the tongue (no need to dilute with sesame oil). This only helps if you do it at the onset of the sore throat. Do not use this oil during the first five months of pregnancy. If you have a persistent sore throat, see this blog for other traditional remedies.

For morning sickness or nausea, you can add 1 drop of Ginger Essential Oil or Peppermint Essential Oil on the tongue.

Kavala Graha (gargling with oil)

Then take some more sesame oil into your mouth and gargle with it for a half a minute to a minute. Spit it out in the trash (as mentioned above). This gargling with oil is called “Kavala Graha”. If you are suffering from gum or other dental problems, you may like to gargle twice a day or to build up to gargling for 3 minutes. Be careful not to swallow or inhale the oil.

If you are suffering from laryngitis, you can also add 10 drops of one of these essential oils (only 5 drops for Cinnamon Bark) per tablespoon of sesame oil and gargle: 

  • Cinnamon Leaf or Cinnamon BarkSafety Precautions: Cinnamon Bark is a dermal toxin and severely sensitizing. Handle with caution. Avoid during pregnancy. Cinnamon Leaf is a mild dermal irritant, so use in moderation. Also, it has a high eugenol content, so it may inhibit blood clotting and be toxic to the liver. Avoid using it during pregnancy.
  • CloveSafety Precautions: Clove oil is a severe skin irritant, and except as previously noted for use on the gums, do not use on the skin. Use in moderation. Avoid during pregnancy.

Do not swallow or inhale the oil. 

Gum massage with oil

After the gargling, you can also take a little more of the sesame oil into the mouth and massage it into your gums with your finger for 2 to 3 minutes. Massage gently but firmly enough so that it feels invigorating. Then you can rinse your mouth out to remove any oil residue. 

Chewing herbs

Ayurveda recommends that you chew the fresh stems of specific plants like neem in the morning and after meals. The sticks should be around 9 inches long and the thickness of one's little finger. Crush one end of the stick and chew it, and eat it slowly. Depending on the herb chewed, the taste can be ‘kashaya’ (astringent), ‘katu (acrid), or ‘tikta’ (bitter), and balance appropriate doshas. It is much more specialized and more effective than the modern day practice of brushing your teeth.

According to Ayurveda, people with Vata dosha are more likely to develop atrophic and receding gums, and it is recommended they chew sticks with bittersweet or astringent tastes, such as liquorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra). People who are Pitta dosha should chew bitter twigs like those from the margosa tree (Azadirachta indica or neem). People who are Kapha are more likely to have pale and hypertrophic gums and should chew sticks with a pungent taste such as the fever nut (Caesalipinia bonduc) and the common milkweed plant (Calotropis procera).

Modern research1 has shown that all the chewing sticks described in ancient Ayurveda texts have antioxidant and medicinal properties to prevent tooth decay. There has also been other research on leaves and twigs traditionally used for teeth cleaning.

According to Ayurveda, people with mouth ulcers, fever, indigestion, those who have tendency to vomit, asthma, cough, and thirst should not brush their teeth. Instead, they should oil their mouths and/or gargle with oil. Both of these methods are commonly called “oil pulling” as they are said to pull toxins out of the body.

Even if you can brush, maybe it is time to re-think your dental practices and to consider adding the ancient Ayurvedic practices such as scraping your tongue and oiling your mouth. I know when I scrape my tongue and oil my mouth, it makes my mouth feel great and even makes speaking feels smoother as a result. What has been your experience with oil pulling or with using diluted essential oils in your mouth? Please add a comment below so that we can all learn from your experiences.




Disclaimer: The statements made on this page have not been evaluated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). They are not intended to diagnose, cure or prevent any disease. If a condition persists, please contact your physician or healthcare provider. The information provided is not a substitute for a face-to-face consultation with a healthcare provider, and should not be construed as medical advice.