There’s a whole world inside your mouth. It takes a world of care to keep it healthy, too, and natural products can go a long way in this regard. Oral hygiene and dental care are complicated matters, and people often neglect important aspects of keeping the space between their cheeks clean and healthy. Problems can run the gamut from gum disease and bad breath to dry mouth and discoloration, but these tips and natural solutions are sure to make for a happy dentist.
From Aloe to Xylitol
For most consumers, aloe vera calls to mind dry skin, and the aloe-containing moisturizers that bring relief, or perhaps the gels meant to soothe a sunburn. So, while putting the stuff in your mouth might sound odd, the gel from this succulent plant is in fact the primary ingredient in many natural dental care solutions. Aloe vera’s healing properties have led to its diverse health applications. But its effectiveness as an antibacterial agent has made aloe vera a proven ally in our battle for healthy teeth and gums. While aloe vera juice supplements may promote oral health, aloe vera-based tooth gels are a proven way of putting the extract’s anti-inflammatory, bacteria-fighting powers right where they need to be.
Research in General Dentistry provides support for this direct application approach in the form of tooth gels. In terms of germ- fighting ability, aloe vera gel was found to be just as effective as two popular commercial toothpastes, and sometimes even outperformed them (1). This is on top of its capacity to soothe irritated gums. Applying aloe vera may also prove effective in caring for mouth sores and ulcers. These products may not contain fluoride, which is known to prevent tooth decay, but also may have side effects like fluorosis (i.e., the discoloring of the teeth caused by fluoride). Ingesting large amounts may cause health problems. Therefore, aloe paste’s comparable performance to these conventional toothpastes may make it the right choice for those looking for a natural alternative. It is important when considering these tooth gels that a given product is manufactured from the proper kind of aloe vera. The inner plant fluid is the portion used for its health benefits, as opposed to the outer surface fluid which is an irritant (1). Look for the manufacturer’s claims about the aloe vera’s source to be sure you’re getting only the right stuff.
Another popular natural ingredient with several applications for oral hygiene is xylitol. Chewing gums containing xylitol have proven effective at preventing plaque and, in turn, cavity formation. Xylitol is a natural sugar substitute, found in some fruits, that differs from sugar in that it keeps plaque-causing bacteria found in the mouth from sticking to the teeth. Xylitol has made its way into mouth care products in different forms, including a recently studied xylitol-containing syrup aimed at cavity prevention in small children. The difference was clear and the results impressive: children aged nine to 15 months who were given two doses of the syrup averaged 0.6 decayed teeth for the group, while a control group averaged nearly two (2). There are also xylitol-based oral sprays designed to reduce the discomfort of dry mouth.
Have Some Tea
Something as easy to consider as one’s choice of beverage can benefit dental health. Long considered a medicinal drink in Asian cultures, green tea’s popularity in the United States has soared in recent years, due in part to its supposed health benefits. According to a study in the Journal of Periodontology, these green tea drinkers are on to something. The study found that those who consumed green tea on a regular basis had better dental health than those who did not. Three indicators of periodontal disease are periodontal pocket depth (PD), clinical attachment loss (CAL) of gum tissue and bleeding on probing (BOP) of the gum tissue. These were all healthier areas in those who drank the most tea (3). In addition, the more tea a subject drank, the better off their teeth and gums were. This effect may be due to the antioxidants found in green tea called catechins, and their anti-inflammatory effects. Green tea is also proving to be a possible solution to oral cancer, breaking up existing cancerous cells and halting further growth (4).
More Problems, More Solutions
Many natural toothpaste brands contain ingredients like baking soda and peroxide. Homemade toothpastes are also an option with the right ingredients in hand. Peroxide is one of only two proven teeth whiteners, so for those looking for a little extra shine in their smile, peroxide toothpastes are a great option. A few natural toothpastes contain some fluoride as well, with its proven effectiveness in combating tooth decay. These may use, in place of peroxide, something like silica derived from sand to whiten teeth. These products are natural by virtue of their lack of preservatives, colorants or animal ingredients (often containing vegetable compounds instead).
Other oral problem fixes abound. Many health food stores carry propolis, which is highly effective in dealing with mouth ulcers. It is a sticky, bacteria-fighting substance that is gathered by bees. Got halitosis? Bad breath can be banished by chewing on mint leaves, eating sunflower seeds or using a natural supplement that fights the bacteria build-up behind offensive breath. These homeopathic blends are meant to detoxify the mouth and digestive tract by using cleansing tissue salts. Dental health is often noted by doctors to be a great indicator of overall health. Natural remedies that tackle one or more of the aforementioned issues can keep a smile bright, and keep us away from the worst the dentist has to offer. WF
1. D. George, et al., “Comparative Evaluation of the Antimicrobial Efficacy of Aloe Vera Tooth Gel and Two Popular Commercial Toothpastes: An In Vitro Study,” Gen. Dentistry, 57 (3), 238-241 (2009).
2. HealthDay, “New Weapon Emerges to Fight Kids’ Cavities,” http://healthday.com/Article.asp?AID=628732, accessed February 12, 2010.
3. M. Kushiyama, et al., “Relationship Between Intake of Green Tea and Periodontal Disease,” J. Periodontol. 80 (3), 372 (2009).
4. ScienceDaily.com, “Green Tea Shows Promise As Chemoprevention Agent For Oral Cancer,” http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/11/091105084848.htm, accessed February 17, 2010.
Published in WholeFoods Magazine, April 2010