Much like today, ancient cultures valued clean, healthy, and white teeth. In poetry and myth, the description of a noble lady included reference to dental health and wellness. The ideal Medieval image included descriptions like “white teeth and red mouth” or some reference to clean teeth and sweet breath. Conversely, villains were characterized by discolored or missing teeth as well as foul-smelling breath.
One cannot help but wonder about the standards of self-care in the Middle Ages, particularly, oral hygiene. We count on Hildegard of Bingen for her recognition of the importance of dental health and wellness. We know today, from a holistic health perspective healthy teeth and gums reflect the vitality of our whole body.
From a holistic health perspective, and according to Hildegard von Bingen, most unhealthy dental conditions reflect an underlying psychosomatic dysfunction. The best preventative treatment for conditions in the mouth and jaw result from taking a holistic view of lifestyle, nutrition, and hygiene.
Certainly, our diets influence dental health and wellness. Moreover, our diet mistakes often result in metabolic disorders contributing to failed oral hygiene.
Cavities and tooth decay fess common during nutrition shortages
People of the Middle Ages had an inherent advantage over modern descendants in maintaining dental health. At that time, the prevalence of sugar, the most common cause of tooth decay, remained low. The ubiquitous use of sugar reflects a very modern development contributing to decline in dental health and wellness.
During the Middle Ages, honey served as the primary sweetener. And, because of its scarcity, only small amounts of honey appeared in most households. In addition, the consumption of fructose occurred in comparatively small quantities. Instead, calcium-rich (dairy products) diets prevailed, which strengthened the teeth.
Records show cavities decline in populations experiencing food scarcity. This relationship showed-up during the Second World War in Europe. With fewer animal fats, sugars, proteins and, above all, luxury foods available, records reflected fewer cavities.
Tooth decay signals the state of metabolic health, which in turn involves the liver, our central metabolic organ.
Our Bodies were Made for Feast and Famine
We talk about the qualities of intermittent fasting resembling the dietary rhythms of our ancestors. During Hildegard’s time, the pattern of cycles, from abundance to scarcity, often took place several times in a single year. Assuming our bodies perform best when balancing periods of scarcity with periods of abundance, then perhaps the effects of fasting go beyond our spiritual and digestive health to affect oral hygiene.
To underscore her holistic view on oral health, Hildegard von Bingen wrote the following.
“Extremely fine small vessels, the thin membrane in which the brain lies, extend to the gums and teeth. If they are filled with bad, rotten blood and they are contaminated by the foam that occurs during the cleaning of the brain, they carry the rotten substance with the pain from the brain to the gums and into the teeth themselves … As a result, this flesh gets sick, and from the mucus that has aged around the teeth, worms [cavities, bacteria] sometimes develop in the teeth, and thus the gums swell, and man has pain from it.”
As with many irregularities in the body, psychological influences, such as stress plays a major role.
Oral Cavity Ecosystem
A delicate ecosystem exist in our mouth, including millions of microorganisms, most of which go completely unnoticed. The importance of balance among bacteria, viruses, fungi and the inner workings of our immune system becomes apparent with disruption. This phenomenon underscores Hildegard’s philosophy of balance and discretio. When things fall apart, we compromise our dental health and wellness.
Our teeth come under attack when we eat. Sugar and starch nourish the oral bacteria, forming a sticky plaque on the tooth surface. The bacteria develops acids in the plaque layer that consume perforations in the teeth. This results in gum inflammation (gingivitis), irritating the supporting tissue, and often causes bleeding. in the gums. Damage to the enamel, demineralization, leads to tooth decay.
Initially harmless gingivitis develops into periodontitis, an inflammatory condition, characterized by progressive destruction of the tooth‐supporting apparatus. If not treated, this inflammation causes the gums to slowly retract from the teeth, disrupting the tooth foundation, and resulting in tooth loss.
Consistent with the basic philosophy of Hildegard medicine, the solution for oral hygiene starts with a change in lifestyle, not just more brushing and flossing. Nutritional treatment accompanied by strength of mind body and spirit offers an optimal first protection against gum inflammation, periodontitis and tooth loss.
Periodontitis: the Symptoms
Since periodontitis arises without pain, people often fail to notice the initial stages. The body’s inflammatory response, triggered by periodontitis, gradually leads to the following symptoms (and, often in the following order).
- Reddened, inflamed gums with frequent bleeding and bad breath.
- Loosening of inflamed gums, so they no longer adhere to the tooth.
- Subsequent formation of deep gum pockets, in which bacteria settles.
- Plaque formation, initially not visible to the patient, because it forms under the gum, i.e. between the gum and the tooth root. This plaque forms as a result of bleeding of the gums in the inflamed gum pockets (proteins in the blood and in the inflammatory secretion calcify).
- Receding of the gums.
- Reduction of the jawbone.
- Loosening of the teeth.
- Long-term tooth loss.
Periodontitis Promotes other Diseases
The effects of parodontitis go beyond the dental health and wellness. Infectious bacteria enter the bloodstream and contribute to inflammation throughout the body.
Periodontitis can increase the risk of developing arthritis (inflammation of the joints). For patients suffering from both arthritis and periodontitis, observations have shown that successful non-surgical treatment of periodontitis also improves arthritis symptoms.
Periodontitis can also contribute to more frequent deposits in the blood vessels, increasing the risk of suffering heart disease rises for patients with periodontitis.
The risk of miscarriage rises for pregnant women suffering from periodontitis.
Periodontitis aggravates and contributes to diabetes. In addition, periodontal treatment appears much less effective for diabetics than for non-diabetics.
Asthma also appears more commonly among periodontitis patients than in those with healthy gums.
Dental Treatment Alone not Enough
Even if it were possible to thoroughly clean the deepest pockets of our gums, the bacteria and inflammation usually return quickly. Dental treatment alone reaches natural limits without the patient adjusting his or her lifestyle.
Proper nutrition and diet must accompany consistent oral hygiene. This holistic combination shifts the oral environment into one hostile toward bacteria. Thus, limiting the formation of new bacteria, and resulting in a strengthened immune system, armed to deal with bacteria and ultimately excessive inflammation.
How Ancient Cultures Kept their Teeth
One can’t help but wonder what oral health looked like in the ancient past. Without fluoride, toothpaste, dental floss, modern toothbrushes and dentists, teeth must have rotted and breath have smelled horrible. However, observations of indigenous tribes show excellent dental health; in some cases without practicing any meaningful dental hygiene.
Records show dental health in indigenous tribes reflects the value of traditional diets, more so than any oral care they performed. Whether a diet including meats, cereals, vegetables, or dairy products, all remain consistent with indigenous diets supporting oral health.
The introduction of industrially processed foods (flour, sugar, or sweetened products, such as jam, sweets, cakes, pasteurized milk, and other finished products), corresponded with the deterioration of oral health in the most extreme way. Corresponding illnesses include, tooth decay, periodontitis, premature tooth loss, and tooth malocclusion over future generations.
Back to Limiting Sugar
A healthy diet represents the most effective measure of preventing tooth decay and gum problems. The first step in a healthy diet means reducing the amount of sugar we consume. We talk about ancient methods for reducing sugar cravings using bitter substances.
Significant progress comes by making minor changes in our diets. For example, conscientiously consuming less sugar, by avoiding processed foods where sugar (by all of its names: glucose, sucrose, dextrose, fructose, syrup, honey, etc.) ranks high on the list of ingredients, represents progress in dental health.
Plants support dental hygiene
Supported by their active substances, the plants we eat create a natural antibiotic defense in the salivary environment to support dental health and wellness.
Bitter substances in particular are a real panacea. They strengthen the metabolic organs liver and gall bladder.
Bitter substances strengthen metabolism
The following plants are well suited for dental hygiene and support the stochastic change: dandelion, comfrey, wormwood, verbena, caraway, fennel (for breath), juniper berries, mugwort, licorice, yarrow.
Cleaning with Cold Water
Hildegard’s views on dental care include the basic advice of not brushing teeth immediately after eating, but rather rinsing with cold water. Cold water strengthens the immune system and therefore the teeth.
Of using cold water to rinse the teeth, Hildegard von Bingen said the following.
“If you want healthy, strong teeth, take pure cold water in your mouth in the morning when you get up so that the mucus that sits on your teeth is softened. With this water, which he has in his mouth, he should brush his teeth, and often repeat this after eating. Then the mucus on his teeth will not increase and they will stay healthy.”
Hildegard makes the following recommendations for dental health and wellness
“If the teeth are weak, pour warm rebasche [vitis vinifera ash powder] into wine. With this wine wash your teeth and gums; and do this often, the teeth become strong, and the flesh becomes healthy. But if the teeth are healthy, this mouthwash will also work. They become beautiful.”
Vitis vinifera ash powder (or, Hildegard’s “rebasche”) may not be known to most people. Though less common in America, rebasche often shows-up in European herbal toothpaste.
Rebasche comes from the grape vines collected and dried in the Springtime. Once dried, the process includes burning to ashes over an open fire, crushing to powder with a mortar and then incorporated into toothpaste or wine. Vitis vinifera is a species of grape known as wine grape, European grape, or grapevine.
Hildegard’s grape vine ash powder for oral care
Hildegard of Bingen was ahead of her time and relied on nature. For cleaning her teeth, she used the ashes of the grapevine (vitis vinifera ash powder), with its gentle cleaning properties in combination with an array of monastic herbs.
The gentle cleaning body of the vitis vinifera ash powder cleans teeth thoroughly and gently. Regular tooth brushing helps to keep teeth and gums healthy and prevents a number of oral health problems from arising.
Hildegard herbs for dental health and wellness
One of Hildegard’s favorite herbs, including for dental hygiene is Verbena officinalis together with another Hildegard favorite, wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) for toothache: “Cook the herbs with pure, good wine, strain and drink it still warm and cooked herbs, as mentioned above, he puts on his jaw where his teeth hurt while sleeping. You can find the recipe in our related post Natural Remedies for Gingivitis.
Dental Health and Wellness when Brushing Teeth
- The toothbrush should have soft bristles and replace every 6 to 8 weeks at the latest.
- An interdental space brush enables cleaning the area between the teeth properly.
- Use a toothbrush not only to clean the surface and outer surfaces of your teeth, but also to thoroughly clean the back area of your teeth, as this is where the deposits primarily form.
- Always brush teeth from the top (gums) downwards (towards the teeth). In this way you prevent bacteria from being pushed into the gums.
- To disinfect the brushes after the cleaning process, we recommend the use of grapefruit seed extract. It is known to act as a natural antibiotic and to be free of side effects. Put 1 to 2 drops into a toothbrush cup filled with a little water and let the brushes soak for about 5 minutes. Then rinse the brushes and dry them.
The tongue is also susceptible to deposits. The same bacteria that causes periodontitis in the teeth and gums, live on the tongue. By meticulously removing plaque from the teeth, without consideration of the tongue, the tongue serves as a reservoir of bacteria. The tongue plaque can be removed with a special tongue cleaner, preferably every morning before brushing your teeth.