You Kiss Your Mama with That Mouth?
Your mouth is a filthy ecosystem. And it's a good thing!
The air we breathe is full of bacteria, chemicals, cigarette smoke, dander, dust, viruses, car exhaust, coughs, sneezes, other people's last breaths- anything you can think of that might be airborne, plus all sorts of things that would never in a hundred years occur to you. It's gross when you break it down, and yet here you are, on the internet, thriving, while your body takes it all in and deals with it.
You could live in fear of the constant, invisible threat of bacteria and microbes (and all the rest), or you could shift to understanding and appreciating the absolute magic of how elegantly our organisms navigate such an overwhelming issue. When we move from panic to wonder, the next logical step is to ask (not 'how can I fix the entire world so it'll be safe for me to go outside?' but...) how can I support this amazing system of mine?
From that train of thought, let's start with your dirty, filthy, germ-ridden mouth: how it's magical and how you can help it be even more so.
How can something germ-ridden be magical? Because your mouth is taking one for the team. It collects and stores all that funky stuff so it doesn't mosey down your throat and into the sacred vault that is your body.
The mucous membranes that cover the surfaces of your tongue and cheeks (your nostrils, too) trap things that they identify as not belonging. We don't tend to think about our mucous membranes until they fail so I want to make sure you know that essential oils can be very damaging to them. This is why I avoid consuming essential oils or even using them for facial steams.
The real secret weapon in your mouth, though, are your tonsils- standing guard right there at the entrance to the throat, the ultimate gatekeeper.
Your tonsils are an important element of the lymphatic system, which collects viruses, bacteria, and the like from throughout the body and ushers them, via your web-like lymphatic system, toward the nearest exit. Due to their primary location, the tonsils are able to prevent many of those things from entering in the first place.
Of course, many of us don't have our anymore because western medicine misinterpreted swollen tonsils as an isolated problem, rather than a symptom of a larger problem with the immune system. It's okay- they're still learning and are completely transparent about the fact that they don't always know best. ; )
If you, like me, are among those whose tonsils became medical waste, this just means that we might be a little more careful about supporting our mouth's role in our overall wellness.
In addition to brushing and the occasional salt gargle, my main methods are tongue scraping and oil pulling.
The first is just how it sounds. When you wake up in the morning- before you drink anything- use a U-shaped piece of metal and gentle pressure to scrape your tongue from back to front. Then rinse the scraper and send all of that gunk down the drain instead of down your throat. Repeat two more times.
This is one of those tiny actions that has a tremendous effect and I don’t understand why it isn’t as widely endorsed as tooth brushing. Also, tongue scrapers cost about the same as some toothbrushes and last much longer.
Next comes oil pulling.
I had some recurring tooth infections that really drove my interest in oral health. Between diet, oil pulling, salt water gargles and and topical compresses (not easy in the back of the mouth, but not impossible!) I was able to heal most infections within a couple of days, before the pain became really intense.
A spoonful of coconut oil is really all you need for great results, but after a while I started to experiment. Since I infuse oils with herbs for other medicinal purposes, it was logical to do that here, too. And since I found activated charcoal to be incredibly helpful in my compresses, I stirred some of that in, too.
And then, just to streamline my morning routine, I had the idea (or maybe I saw it somewhere?) to freeze the oil in an ice cube tray and keep the single-serving doses in a jar in the refrigerator. It's so easy to just pop one in my mouth, let it melt, swish while I'm washing dishes or making breakfast, then spit and rinse.
Here's how to oil pull, with my recipe for lozenges below.
• Take a tablespoon of coconut oil in liquid or cold lozenge form.
• Once it's melted, swish around in your mouth for about 20 minutes.
• Spit out the oil (do NOT swallow it!).
• Rinse mouth with water a couple times.
I do this a few times a week, more if it seems needed for some reason. But let me stress that more is not always better here. We want to support our mouths, not create a sterile environment.
So, are you ready to make your own lozenges? The quickest way to get started is with oil that hasn't been infused- infusing can take a month or more. Here then is a basic recipe, and once you have a batch in the fridge, you can start infusing oil for your next batch.
Here's the basic recipe:
•Melt some coconut oil in the sun or in a bowl of hot water. For 12 lozenges (about a tablespoon each) you won't even need a full cup.
• Transfer your oil to a bowl.
• Open 1-4 capsules of activated charcoal and stir it into the oil. I used four in this batch to get this deep, matte black.
• Pour a tablespoon of charcoal + oil into each ice cube area. Feel free to make a huge mess. Bonus points if you photograph that mess and share it with the world.
• Slide those into the freezer and in less than an hour you can transfer them to a jar to store in the refrigerator.
Now that you're set up for the next few weeks (depending on how often you oil pull), you can take another cup of liquid coconut oil and start infusing it with lavender or other medicinal herbs.
I like lavender because it's antibacterial, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory, and smells lovely.
Other antibacterial herbs you might use are calendula, cinnamon or clove (to avoid irritation with these two, use the whole spice to infuse your oil instead of the ground form), lemon balm, chamomile, sage, cedar, fir, and mint (SO MANY plants are antibacterial- thanks Nature!)
Feel free to experiment with different combinations. Note that the flavor is more concentrated in dried forms, so if you use fresh, you'll want to use a larger quantity.
• To infuse oil, simply add a small handful of the herb/s of your choice to the jar of oil and let them infuse for a month or more.
• Shake the jar periodically and keep it out of direct sunlight (unless you need it to melt).
• You'll know it's ready is when it smells more like the plant matter than coconut. How long this takes will depend on the ratio of herbs to oil that you use, how potent the herbs are and whether they're fresh or dried (see above).
• Once you're ready to use it for lozenges, just strain out the plant matter and give it to your garden or compost pile.
Infusing oil isn't an exact science- I once made a lavender batch that was so powerful it numbed my mouth a little! If this isn't what you're going for, you can test a spoonful of the melted oil to test its strength before continuing with the recipe.
If it's too much, just dilute it with some more straight coconut oil, then add your charcoal when you're happy with it.
Now take that happy mouth of yours and go give your mama a big, clean kiss!