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.
Home Basics for a Healthy Mouth
Caring for your teeth is more than just a vanity. Recent research has shown the health of your mouth has far-reaching effects on your overall well-being. It’s long been known that gum disease is the leading cause of tooth loss in adults, but in the past decade gum disease has been shown to possibly be a contributing factor in heart attacks, strokes and respiratory diseases.
Early signs of gum disease, called gingivitis, include sore or bleeding gums and bad breath. Most of the time, gingivitis can be healed with daily brushing and flossing to remove bacteria, along with twice-yearly professional dental cleanings. If left untreated, however, gingivitis can lead to a more serious stage of gum disease called periodontitis. At this stage, the gums pull away from the teeth, forming pockets that collect food and bacteria. Inflammation and infection below the gum line break down the bone and connective tissue that hold the teeth in place, which can result in tooth loss. Adults also are prone to tooth decay when vulnerable roots are exposed to bacteria along receding gums.
It takes only a few minutes a day to properly care for your teeth. Brushing and flossing sweep away plaque, the sticky film of bacteria that causes tooth decay and gum disease. Because plaque forms continuously, it’s essential to brush and floss twice daily. Choose a soft toothbrush (a hard toothbrush can wear away tooth enamel, erode gums and cause tooth sensitivity). Dentists recommend brushing for a full two minutes, 30 seconds in each quadrant. The correct brushing technique is important: Place the toothbrush at a 45-degree angle to your teeth and brush in a gentle, circular motion. Finish by brushing your tongue to remove bacteria lurking in the crevices.
Even the best brushing technique won’t remove bacteria hiding between your teeth and under your gum line, and that’s why daily flossing is critical. To floss correctly, curve the floss around each tooth and gently under the gum line, following the contours of the tooth on both sides.
Although mouthwash isn’t a substitute for thoroughly cleansing your teeth, it can provide a refreshing finish to your routine and is excellent to use between meals if you don’t have time to brush. An herbal mouthwash also can help tighten and heal gums and fight bacteria.
Make Your Own Mouth-Care Products
There are many excellent natural herbal mouth-care products available on the market, but you also can make your own with simple ingredients. Click here for recipes.
12 Best Mouth-Care Herbs
• Aloe (Aloe vera). With its soothing anti-inflammatory properties, aloe gel helps heal gum inflammation. If you have a fresh aloe vera plant, cut off a leaf, slice it, and apply the gel from the inner leaf directly to the affected area. You also can use pure bottled aloe vera gel.
• Calendula (Calendula officinalis). With soothing, anti-inflammatory properties, calendula helps heal irritated, tender gums. It also has mild antiseptic action. A cup of warm calendula tea is a simple mouth rinse for sore gums.
• Clove (Syzygium aromaticum). Cloves are rich in eugenol, an excellent topical anesthetic. A toothache always warrants a visit to the dentist, but you can temporarily numb the pain with clove oil. Dip a cotton swab into clove essential oil and gently rub the painful tooth and gum with the oil.
• Echinacea (Echinacea spp.). As a powerful immune-stimulating herb, echinacea helps combat infection. To help heal gum inflammation, add ½ teaspoon of liquid extract to ½ glass of tepid water, rinse your mouth and then swallow the mixture. Repeat three times a day until the infection subsides.
• Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis). Rich in astringent and antimicrobial compounds, goldenseal often is included in commercial toothpastes and mouthwashes. It’s helpful both for preventing and healing gum problems.
• Myrrh (Commiphora spp.) is one of the best herbs for healing bleeding gums and mouth ulcers, and helps combat the bacteria that cause tooth decay and gum disease. Add myrrh liquid extract to mouthwash or use powdered myrrh in a homemade toothpaste or poultice for healing gum infections.
• Neem (Azadirachta indica). Highly regarded for centuries in Ayurvedic healing as a premier antibacterial herb, neem is included in natural toothpastes and mouthwashes to help prevent plaque.
• Oregon grape root (Mahonia spp.). With a high concentration of antimicrobial compounds, Oregon grape is excellent for helping to prevent and heal gum problems. Because of its astringent properties, Oregon grape also helps heal bleeding gums.
• Peppermint (Mentha ×piperita) is a favorite ingredient in toothpastes and mouthwashes. Menthol, the ingredient responsible for the flavor of peppermint, is an excellent breath freshener. Add a couple of drops of peppermint essential oil to a glass of water and use as a mouth rinse.
• Sage (Salvia officinalis). The strong astringent properties of sage have made it a favorite herb for helping tighten the gums and soothe a sore mouth. A warm tea made from sage makes an excellent mouth rinse for helping heal the gums.
• Tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia). A potent antimicrobial, tea tree essential oil fights the bacteria that cause tooth decay and gum disease. Add 3 drops of tea tree essential oil to ½ cup of tepid water and use as a mouth rinse.
• White oak (Quercus alba). Strongly astringent white oak bark, used in a mouth rinse, is helpful for healing swollen, tender and bleeding gums.
This old-fashioned toothpowder doesn’t have the consistency that most people associate with toothpaste, but it leaves your teeth feeling clean. If you like a sweet toothpowder, add ½ teaspoon of stevia powder.
- ½ cup baking soda
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 2 teaspoons myrrh powder
- ½ teaspoon stevia powder (optional)
- 20 to 40 drops peppermint essential oil
Mix all ingredients together and store in an airtight container. To use, place 1 teaspoon of the powder into a small bowl or the palm of your hand. Wet your toothbrush, and dip the toothbrush into the powder. Brush and rinse thoroughly.
This combination of herbs helps heal mild to moderate cases of gingivitis by tightening gums and fighting bacteria. It’s very astringent and doesn’t taste great, but it does the job.
- 2 tablespoons powdered myrrh
- 4 tablespoons powdered white oak bark
- 4 tablespoons baking soda
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- ¼ teaspoon powdered cloves
- ¼ teaspoon powdered cinnamon
Mix all ingredients together and store in a tightly covered container. To use, place 1 teaspoon into the palm of your hand or a small bowl. Wet your toothbrush, and dip the toothbrush into the powder. Brush your teeth and gums thoroughly with the powder and rinse well.
This toothpaste is more similar to commercially available toothpastes because of the sweet flavor and smooth consistency, provided by vegetable glycerin.
- ¼ cup baking soda
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 2 tablespoons vegetable glycerin
- 10 drops peppermint essential oil
- 10 drops orange essential oil
- 5 drops eucalyptus essential oil
Mix all ingredients together thoroughly in a small bowl. Store in a small, tightly covered container. To use, scoop approximately 1 teaspoon out of the container and place on your damp toothbrush. Brush your teeth and rinse thoroughly.
Although this won’t give you the same dramatic results as the bleaching kits available at drugstores and from your dentist, it will result in a brighter smile.
- 1 tablespoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon hydrogen peroxide
Mix ingredients together in a small container. Wet your toothbrush, and dip into the mixture. Brush your teeth for two minutes. Rinse thoroughly.
This mouthwash leaves your mouth feeling clean and refreshed, and the essential oils help combat bacteria.
- 20 drops peppermint essential oil
- 10 drops orange essential oil
- 10 drops eucalyptus essential oil
- 1 cup vodka
Combine essential oils with vodka and store in a tightly capped bottle. To use, dilute 1 tablespoon mouthwash in 1 cup water. Stir well. Use as a gargle and mouth rinse and do not swallow.
This mouthwash requires a couple of weeks for the spices to steep in the alcohol.
- 1 cup vodka
- 1 tablespoon whole cloves
- 1 tablespoon cinnamon chips
- 1 teaspoon fennel seed
- 1 teaspoon anise seed
- 1 teaspoon licorice root
Place vodka and spices into a small glass jar, tightly lidded. Steep for two weeks, giving the jar a shake daily to keep spices from settling. Strain and pour into a glass bottle. To use, dilute 1 tablespoon mouthwash in 1 cup of water. Use as a gargle and mouth rinse and do not swallow.
The herbs in this formula help fight bacteria and heal tender, bleeding gums.
- 1 tablespoon calendula tincture
- 1 tablespoon Oregon grape root tincture
- 1 tablespoon myrrh tincture
- ½ cup vodka
Mix tinctures with vodka and store in a tightly capped glass bottle. To use, mix 1 teaspoon of mouthwash in 1/2 cup of water. Rinse your mouth thoroughly for 30 seconds and do not swallow.