Smile! Herbal Remedies for a Healthy Mouth

Many conventional oral care products contain unhealthy or toxic ingredients. Opt instead for a natural, herbal mouth-care regimen.

| July/August 2007

Your smile is one of the first things people notice upon meeting you. Studies have shown that an attractive, healthy smile influences how desirable, successful and friendly a person is thought to be. With hundreds of mouth-care products promising whiter teeth and fresher breath, it seems a more attractive smile is just a tooth brushing away. But many conventional toothpastes and mouthwashes contain ingredients that are unhealthy or even toxic. Opt instead for a natural, herbal mouth-care regimen.

The Benefits of Natural Mouth Care

No one would argue that brushing and flossing are the backbones of home dental care. But most conventional toothpastes and mouthwashes on the market are laden with unnecessary and sometimes harmful ingredients. Although you’re not supposed to swallow toothpaste or mouthwash, they still can be absorbed directly into the bloodstream because the products come into direct contact with the mucous membranes of the mouth.

Almost all conventional (and even some natural) toothpastes and mouthwashes contain the detergent and foaming agent sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), which has been linked in recent studies to recurrent aphthous ulcers, more commonly known as canker sores. Artificial sweeteners, such as saccharine, and artificial colors are found in almost all conventional mouth-care products. Most also contain fluoride, which is toxic if swallowed—that’s why fluoride toothpastes are required by the Food and Drug Administration to carry poison warning labels. Although studies show that fluoride helps prevent tooth decay, controversy exists over the safety of fluoride because it has been linked to immune dysfunction.

Natural toothpastes rely instead on cleansing agents ranging from the commonplace but effective baking soda, salt and bentonite clay to the more esoteric, including bamboo powder, yucca and peelu, a soft tree fiber. Natural toothpastes and mouthwashes are sweetened with vegetable glycerin, stevia or xylitol, none of which fosters bacteria growth. Xylitol, a natural sugar made from birch trees, has been shown in studies to actually prevent tooth decay and gum disease.

Essential oils, such as anise, cinnamon, clove, eucalyptus, fennel, lavender, peppermint, rosemary, spearmint and tea tree, are used to flavor natural mouth-care products and have the additional benefit of busting bacteria. Herbs often found in natural toothpastes and mouthwashes include echinacea (Echinacea spp.), goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis), green tea (Camellia sinensis), myrrh (Commiphora spp.) and neem (Azadirachta indica), all of which have potent antimicrobial properties.

Although dental floss seems an unlikely source of toxic chemicals, many brands’ nonstick coatings contain perfluorinated compounds (PFCs), which have been linked to cancer. Healthier choices are natural dental flosses made with vegetable waxes and beeswax and flavored with essential oils.

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