Oral health is a concept commonly associated with aesthetics. So many people take care of their teeth because they don’t want to feel self-conscious when interacting with other people. While that is important, it’s not the only purpose good dental hygiene and habits serve. In fact, oral health affects the overall health of all people at all ages, and can be one of the first indicators of illness (1).
The effects of poor oral health can affect people of all ages, but especially young children and the elderly. As children develop, it’s important to establish health habits as dental cavities are five times more common than asthma and seven times more common than hay fever in children (2). What may be just as shocking is that elderly individuals should be retaining and maintaining their teeth much later in life than what we typically see. An article published by Colgate for people ages 55 and up indicates that around 75 percent of adults 60 and older only have a portion of their original teeth. It’s expected that issues like severe gum disease, which is common in about 23 percent of seniors between the ages of 65 to 74, can contribute to the loss of one’s natural teeth (3). Severe gum diseases can also contribute to other illnesses commonly associated with the elderly such as heart disease and diabetes.
It’s quite clear that overall oral health is something that individuals should be mindful of throughout their entire life. This can be achieved not only by brushing twice a day and flossing at least once a day, but also by being mindful of the ingredients of the products that they use to maintain and promote oral health and hygiene.
A product that has been gaining a lot of popularity in the U.S. over the course of the last decade is xylitol. It’s best described as a naturally occurring sweetener that has been found to have beneficial properties such as its ability to reduce bacterial adherence to gums and teeth and to work as a sugar alternative for diabetics (4). It’s used primarily in products like gums, mints toothpaste, mouthwash and nasal sprays. To experience the full benefits of xylitol, it’s recommended that it be consumed at least five times a day. The recommended method of achieving that amount of use would be in the morning and at nightly brushes, and after every meal and snack. Professionals say that 6-10 grams is a good amount to have each day (4). Prominent in products, xylitol has been determined to be safe for people of all ages. However, it must be highlighted that xylitol has been proven to be dangerous, and even deadly, to dogs (4). So, it’s important to keep all products containing xylitol away from furry friends.
Azadirachta indica, more commonly referred to as “Neem” is an evergreen tree that has been used by people in India and in Ayurvedic medicine since before recorded history. Most commonly used are the bark and the twigs of the tree. The bark has been used as an active ingredient in many toothpastes and powders due to its antibacterial properties.
Professionals working in the dentistry industry have found use for it as it is believed to be beneficial for problems induced by gingivitis and allows people to maintain their oral health in a natural way. The twigs have been found to serve as a breath freshener, toothache reliever and as a cleaning tool for the teeth (5). Though many people around the globe still chew the twigs, leaves and seeds to get the benefits of neem, there are several products that have been produced to provide the same benefits, but in toothpaste, mouthwash and floss form. The oil that is derived from the seeds can be applied to the toothbrush before brushing and then directly to the gums after brushing to help with any bleeding or inflammation (6). Neem oil isn’t the only oil that can be useful in maintaining oral health. In fact, calendula oil as well as oils containing high levels of Vitamins A, C, D and E have been found to be effective in promoting the healing of gums.
Powders and pastes containing activated charcoal, also referred to as “black magic,” have taken off as an incredibly popular teeth whitening method within health and beauty circles over the past couple of years. However, this is not a new oral care method in the slightest. In fact, its use throughout history is undeniable. In 27 BC the Romans were using charcoal mixed with oyster shells and bark to make toothpaste (7).
Modern proponents of the product claim that it’s the most effective and natural way to eliminate and prevent plaque, whiten teeth, and detoxify the mouth and body. Modern technologies such as time lapse videos of users of the product can now show that with just a few brushes, teeth do indeed gain a more lustrous appearance. However, as the trend continues, some have come to question the effectiveness of the products as well as the effects of its long-term use. American Dental Association’s (ADA) Mouth Healthy website states that, “There is no evidence that shows dental products with charcoal are safe or effective for your teeth, according to the September 2017 issue of the Journal of the American Dental Association” (8). ADA also goes on to say that using products that are too abrasive can wear down the enamel, and expose the tooth’s dentin which is more sensitive and appears yellow (8). This is where products such as toothbrushes, flosses, and mouth rinses that are infused with activated charcoal can become useful because they are not as abrasive as many powders and pastes.
Though the effectiveness of charcoal remains to be confirmed by establishments such as the ADA, there are studies taking place that do seem to have some rather promising results. Also, many dentists and manufacturers such as Colgate have started to talk about charcoal as a useful way to help maintain good oral health with proper use and include it in their products and recommendations.
Food & Supplements
Intuitively, what one eats has a direct impact on the oral health of that individual. Poor diet can lead to oral ailments such as tooth decay and gum diseases, such as gingivitis. Foods containing high levels of sugar, carbohydrates, and starches were found to the production of plaque acids that directly affect the enamel of one’s teeth, and will over time lead to a cavity (9). The most challenging part of taking foods into consideration when thinking about oral health is the fact that some of the contributors to poor oral health, such as sugars, can also be found in many foods that also contain nutrients that are necessary in maintaining a healthy diet such as fruits, vegetables and milk. It’s important to consider this when consuming other sugary foods and beverages that do not contain the same necessary nutrients to maintaining one’s health.
Some foods and beverages that contribute to improving and maintaining oral health are carrots, apples, almonds, leafy greens and dairy products such as cheese (9). Chamomile tea and green tea can provide oral benefits such as soothing gum tissues and decreasing plaque, respectively (10). Recently, cranberries have also received acclaim for their ability to provide oral protection, especially for the elderly. In a 2008 study looking at the potential benefits that cranberries present for oral health, researchers found that they inhibit acid production, attachment and biofilm formation (11) . Powders and other drink mixes containing high levels of cranberry extract can be helpful for elderly individuals, especially those who live in assisted living facilities where staff and time are often limited. But high-sugar juices should be avoided.
Supplements such as coenzyme Q10 and echinacea can support oral health by promoting gum healing and cell growth as well as reducing inflammation and enhancing immune function (10). Calcium and magnesium supplements are also important because it is believed that bone loss around the gums could lead to tooth loss (10). It’s important to get all the necessary vitamins and minerals to ensure that one’s oral health is at its greatest. WF
Published in WholeFoods Magazine August 2018