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Whitening toothpastes. Mouthwashes. Home
bleaching kits. Our national obsession with white teeth and fresh
breath has spawned an entire mouth-care industry. We are a nation
obsessed with the appearance of our mouths. But the focus of all
this obsession might be misplaced: In the scheme of things, how our
teeth look and our mouth smells really don’t add up to much. The
overall health of our mouths and gums, however, that’s a horse of a
different color.

Research shows that our overall well-being is clearly linked to
the condition of our teeth and gums. By cultivating good habits of
dental health — and with help from herbs known to promote healthy
teeth and gums — we can prevent tooth decay, gum disease — even
heart disease. And, of course, we’ll have whiter teeth and fresher


The bacteria in plaque thrive on the sugars and starches we eat,
producing acids that attack tooth enamel and cause decay. A buildup
of plaque at the gum line also lays the groundwork for gum

Daily brushing and flossing sweep away most plaque deposits. But
it takes only 24 hours for plaque to harden into calculus, a
cement-like substance that can only be removed by a professional
dental cleaning. It’s not possible to completely prevent calculus
buildup with home dental care, so twice-yearly professional
cleanings are a must.

While brushing and flossing are essential for preventing gum
disease and tooth decay, other factors are also important. To keep
your mouth healthy, follow the same basic principles necessary for
general health and well-being: Eat well, exercise, get enough sleep
and learn to manage stress. All of these factors keep your immune
system in top condition so it can maintain the upper hand over the
bacteria that cause disease.


Aloe (Aloe vera). Aloe leaf gel has
anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties and helps heal gum
inflammation and mouth ulcers. Apply a small amount of gel directly
to the affected area.

Clove (Syzgium aromaticum). Clove essential oil
contains eugenol, which has anesthetic properties. To ease a
toothache until you can see a dentist, place a few drops of clove
essential oil onto a cotton swab and rub gently onto the tooth and

Echinacea (Echinacea spp.). Echinacea has
powerful antibacterial and immune-stimulating properties and helps
to fight infection. Add 1/2 teaspoon of the liquid extract to 1/2
glass of water as a mouthwash to heal gum inflammation. If you have
an infection, take 1/2 teaspoon of the liquid extract three times a

Myrrh (Commiphora mukul). A potent
antibacterial, myrrh combats infection in the teeth and gums. It
also helps strengthen gums.

Neem (Azadirachta indica). An Ayurvedic herb,
neem has antimicrobial properties. The powdered herb helps
strengthen gums and prevent plaque and is found in some natural
toothpastes. Because safety in pregnant or nursing women and young
children has not been established, neem products should not be used
without consulting your health-care practitioner.

Peppermint (Mentha ¥piperita). Contains
menthol, an excellent breath freshener. Rinse your mouth with cool,
unsweetened peppermint tea, or add a couple of drops of peppermint
essential oil to a glass of water and use as a mouthwash.

Sage (Salvia officinalis). Strongly astringent,
sage tightens gum tissue and soothes mucous membranes in the mouth.
Use cool sage tea as a mouth rinse to tighten gums.

Tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia). A powerful
antibacterial, tea tree essential oil combats infection, including
the bacteria that cause tooth decay and gum disease. Add 3 drops of
tea tree essential oil to 1/2 cup of water and use as a mouth rinse
(don’t swallow the mixture). Because safety in pregnant or nursing
women and young children has not been established, tea tree
products should not be used without consulting your health-care


Pigments in coffee, tea, red wine, blueberries and tobacco are
some of the primary causes of tooth discoloration. In addition,
antibiotics given in early childhood can discolor teeth, and teeth
tend to gradually turn yellow with aging.

Normal tooth brushing removes a certain amount of these
pigments, but with time, tooth enamel can become stained. While
mild abrasives in toothpaste can remove surface stains, it takes a
whitening agent, such as hydrogen peroxide, to remove stains below
the surface of the enamel.

A variety of gels, toothpastes and whitening strips are widely
available for whitening teeth, and the procedure can also be
performed by a dentist. Although whitening is regarded as safe, the
bleaching agents can cause intense (although usually temporary)
tooth sensitivity.

To make your own tooth-whitening treatment, mix 1 teaspoon of
baking soda with enough hydrogen peroxide to make a paste, and
brush your teeth for 2 minutes. Rinse thoroughly. Repeat daily, if
desired. Although not as strong as the bleach used in dental
offices, this mixture will noticeably brighten your smile.

Laurel Vukovic writes and teaches about herbs and natural
healing from her home in southern Oregon. She is the author of 1001
Natural Remedies (Dorling Kindersley, 2003) and Herbal Healing
Secrets for Women (Prentice Hall, 2000).

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