When it comes to healthy teeth and gums, keep one word in mind: prevention. Because many dental problems are the result of gum disease, focus on keeping your gums healthy with natural dental care.
An estimated 75 percent of Americans have some form of gum or periodontal disease, according to the American Dental Hygienists’ Association. Regular dental visits (every six months is recommended for most) can treat the disease at its earliest stages, keeping your teeth healthy—and helping you spend less time in the dentist’s chair.
Plaque, the main cause of tooth decay and gum disease, starts building up about 20 minutes after eating. The first steps in reducing plaque buildup and maintaining oral health are basic care: Brush your teeth at least twice daily with a soft-bristled toothbrush and floss under the gumline once a day.
Used in combination with good basic dental care, healing herbs can bolster oral health. Herbalist Christopher Hobbs recommends taking diluted bloodroot tincture to protect teeth and gums against oral bacteria. Myrrh tincture helps strengthen gums and combat tooth and gum infections, and echinacea tincture helps the body fight oral bacteria, he says. Take tinctures of these herbs daily, following the manufacturer’s instructions.
Aloe vera gel, a powerful anti-inflammatory and antibacterial healer, can help treat gum inflammation. Apply a small amount of aloe gel to the affected area several times daily, says Laurel Vukovic, an Ashland, Oregon-based author and herbalist.
Vukovic also recommends neem, an herb with antimicrobial properties that can help strengthen gums and prevent plaque. Neem is found in some natural toothpastes and mouthwashes.
Finally, green tea is another potent herbal remedy. In addition to its antioxidant and other health benefits, green tea’s polyphenol compounds may inhibit the growth of oral bacteria. Drink two to three cups daily.
Supplements to Try
Supplements can also be good for oral health. Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) may improve circulation to the gums and help prevent gum disease. It’s also a powerful antioxidant. Take 60 to 100 milligrams (mg) daily in capsule form.
A deficiency of vitamin C can cause gum disease, loose teeth and tooth loss. Researchers at the Linus Pauling Institute suggest the current recommended dietary allowance (75 mg for women, 90 mg for men) be increased to 200 mg. But choose supplements you swallow instead of chewable vitamin C tablets, as ascorbic acid can erode tooth enamel.
Also make sure you’re getting 1,000 mg or more of calcium daily (either from your diet or in supplements). Calcium is necessary for building and maintaining healthy teeth, and if blood levels of calcium fall, the body draws calcium stores from the jaw, which can result in tooth loss. Combined with calcium, magnesium also helps keep teeth and bones strong. Aim for 400 mg per day.
Ever wonder what’s in your toothpaste? Most contain mild abrasives such as calcium carbonate or hydrated aluminum oxides; fluoride to strengthen tooth enamel; humectants such as propylene or glycol to prevent water loss in the toothpaste; flavoring agents such as saccharin or other sweeteners that do not promote tooth decay; thickening agents; and detergents such as sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) to create foaming, according to the American Dental Association. While these ingredients may not be overly dangerous, most holistic dentists suggest avoiding them. A study at the University of Oslo, Norway, showed a link between toothpastes that contain SLS and recurrent aphthous ulcers (more commonly known as canker sores). Fluoride remains a controversial ingredient that, when used in excess, may make developing teeth more brittle and may be linked to immune dysfunction and other diseases.
If you’d prefer to avoid artificial ingredients, it’s simple to make your own toothpaste (see “DIY Natural Dental Care” below). Many natural products also are available, although some still contain fluoride and SLS. Check out our list of recommended natural toothpastes and other dental care products.
DIY Natural Dental Care
It’s simple to make your own toothpaste, natural mouthwash and other natural dental care products.
Mint Toothpaste Recipe
2 tablespoons baking soda
1⁄2 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon vegetable glycerin
20 drops peppermint essential oil
1. Mix all ingredients and store in an airtight container.
Natural Tooth Whitener
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon 3% hydrogen peroxide
1. Mix ingredients together.
2. Dip toothbrush in mixture and brush for 3 minutes, then rinse thoroughly. Follow with toothpaste.
Note: Some people’s gums may be sensitive to hydrogen peroxide. Attempt to keep solution off gums as much as possible.
Natural Mouthwash Recipe
3⁄4 cup water
1⁄4 cup vodka
2 droppersful calendula tincture
2 droppersful goldenseal tincture
1 dropperful myrrh tincture
1 to 2 drops peppermint essential oil
1. Combine all ingredients and shake well.
2. Dilute 3 tablespoons of the rinse in 1⁄2 ounce water, and use as a mouthwash.
If you have a toothache but can’t get to the dentist right away, herbalist Rosemary Gladstar recommends this toothache poultice: Combine 1 part each powdered goldenseal, myrrh, spilanthes and turmeric with 1 drop clove essential oil. Combine the mixture with enough water to make a thick paste, then pack into a small cylinder-shaped poultice and apply directly to the tooth.
When to See the Dentist
Plan regular dental cleanings and exams twice a year. Be sure to make an appointment if you notice any of the
following, as early detection and treatment are important:
■ Red, tender or swollen gums
■ Gums that bleed when you brush or floss
■ Gums that begin pulling away from your teeth
■ Loose permanent teeth
■ Changes in the way your top and bottom teeth align with each other
■ Unusual sensitivity to hot and cold
■ Persistent bad breath or an unusual taste in your mouth
Source: Mayo Clinic
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