Since I have been doing dental care research I wanted to share some information with you. Botanical medicine does offer many effective treatments for common dental problems and is especially great, along with diet, for maintaining oral hygiene and preventing problems without using unpronounceable ingredients. However, there are limitations to what natural remedies can do once the teeth and their root structure is damaged.
There are three primary dental diseases; tooth decay, gingivitis, and periodontitis. The primary conditions that affect teeth are the erosion of the enamel and dentin, damage to living tissues as the pulp and periodontium, and loss of teeth. There are a variety of causes and different types of these conditions but the most widespread and common forms have similar cause and therefore similar approaches to using herbal treatment. The cause of dental decay is the same as the major forms of gingivitis and periodontisis, which is bacterial infection with acidification from carbohydrates fermentation.
In the case of tooth decay, the acidification causes demineralization of the surface structures of the teeth. Good oral hygiene, herbal preparations and nutrition are probably the most important approach for preventing tooth decay. Beginning stages of dental cavities, can re-mineralize but after they are established they must be treated by conventional dentistry.
Gingivitis is an inflammation of the gums, it is the mildest form of gum disease and it preventable. Typically, gingivitis is caused by an accumulation of plaque, a biofilm that attaches to the teeth and if over time it is not removed, irritation along the gum line will occur. The primary signs and symptoms of gingivitis are halitosis, swollen gums that can be red or purple, gum tenderness and pain, and bleeding gums. The primary treatment for most cases is plaque removal. Because plaque is a bacterial biofilm, numerous botanical approaches in conjunction with mechanical cleansing are viable and effective.
Periodontitis is an inflammatory disease that affects four tissues of the periodontium beyond the gum tissue to the supporting structures of the teeth, including the bones around the teeth. Although it is possible to stop its progression, its damage is irreversible. Symptoms of periodontitis include gingivitis, bleeding gums, halitosis, metallic taste in mouth, receding gums, pockets between teeth and gums, and in later stages loose teeth. It can progress with no pain or symptoms, and the condition can be advanced before it is discovered. Periodontitis increases inflammation in the body and has been linked to stroke, heart attack and atherosclerosis. Herbal medicine can play an important role in the prevention of periodontitis through daily hygiene.
The bacteria that is generally associated with tooth decay and gingivitis is Streptoccus mutans; it is generally associated with the formation of biofilm, plaque, which causes the acidification which destroys the enamel and starts dental decay. Therefore, the role healthy bacterial ecology in the mouth and on the teeth is the same as that which colonizes the mucous membranes in general, like the respiratory mucous membrane and the terrain of the digestive tract, and that is to provide immunological protection against the overgrowth of pathogenic species and the acidification of the terrain. The prevention and treatment of all the common oral and dental problems is to control pathogens with antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory remedies while supporting the healthy microbial terrain.
Gathering the Jade Juice
Knowing that abundant flow of parasympathetic-stimulated saliva is beneficial for oral and dental health, we can understand the value of the qigong exercise called “Gathering the Jade Juice.” This exercise is done by circling the tongue around the mouth and over the teeth to stimulate the flow of saliva, which is allowed to accumulate. Once the mouth is full of saliva it is swished around, cleaning the teeth and gums and releasing more saliva. As this continues the taste of the saliva becomes sweeter and the consistency more watery, indicating its parasympathetic origin. The practitioner then visualizes that the saliva is infused with pure silver moonlight that transforms it into a nectar of healing, and then it is swallowed.
The reason that this practice is so important not just for activating the digestive enzymes but for also cleansing the mouth and protecting is because the acidification of the oral terrain increases when the antimicrobial and mechanical cleansing properties of saliva are diminished by reduced flow from various causes, which we have covered. So saliva plays a crucial role in dental and oral health. It contains compounds that inhibit bacterial fermentation and acidity that cause the inflammation and infection. The flow is directly related to the pH of the mouth and the surface of the teeth. It’s important to remember that there is a continual interplay between the flow of saliva, demineralization and remineralization of the surface of the teeth. So when the flow of the saliva decreases, the acidity levels of the mouth and on the teeth specifically increase.
Ayurveda describes the use of sesame oil as a traditional method for oral hygiene with numerous benefits. Recently, the technique known as “oil pulling” seems to have become somewhat of a craze in the natural health world, with everything from curing receding gums to growing lustrous hair being attributed to it.
The technique is to take about a tablespoon of oil in the mouth, rinse the mouth with it for ten to fifteen minutes, “pulling” it through the teeth and gums, and then spitting it out.
There is no doubt that this method can be beneficial for the mouth, gums and teeth. Sesame oil has known antibacterial properties, and when combined with the increased salivary flow that is created, it becomes more beneficial. The range of potential benefits beyond the mouth can be understood from the perspective of Ayurvedic “nasya” therapy, which treats problems of the brain, neck, sinuses, mouth and upper back using medicated oils in the nostrils. There is a clear empirical and functional link between chronic infections in the mouth and those in the sinuses and vice versa, so to treat one system will positively affect the other.
There are a number of other oils besides sesame that can be considered for this purpose. Coconut oil is also antimicrobial, and neem oil even more so. While neem oil has a rather disagreeable taste, there are no contraindications for its periodic use in this way, especially when a more powerful antimicrobial effect is needed, as long as it is not being ingested.
The major oral and dental conditions such as caries, gingivitis and periodontitis are primarily infectious processes regulated by pH of the bacterial ecology in the mouth; therefore, it is relatively easy to propose a large pharmacopeia of botanical remedies in various forms that would offer great benefits both preventively and curatively. These species can be organized into wide therapeutic categories, the most important being antimicrobials, anti-inflammatories, circulatory stimulants and demulcents.
Herbs for Dental Care
Medicinal plants can be used for dental treatments and hygiene in the form of tooth sticks, powders for brushing, as decoctions and tinctures for holding in the mouth, rinsing and ingestion, and made into paste for applying as poultices to the gums.
Frankincense gum has been chewed for millennia for its health promoting effects, especially in the mouth. The resin tears typically contain about one percent essential oil content, which is released gradually at biocompatible levels into the mouth and digestive tract.Various species of frankincense have been studied extensively for their antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory and anti tumor properties, among others. In a study of the use of B. serrata it was found that Frankincense application (either extract or powder) can lead to remarkable decrease in inflammatory indices” in plaque-induced gingivitis. Essential oils of frankincense can be used safely and effectively in mouthwash preparations.
Myrrh is another famous resin that has a long history of use for dental problems. It is significantly more bitter, astringent and antiseptic than frankincense and not agreeable for chewing. Myrrh powder is sometimes found in brushing formulas, and more often in mouthwashes as a tincture. It is often combined with goldenseal when a strong antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory agent is needed, as in acute gingivitis. The essential oil of myrrh should not be used in the mouth.
Prickly ash bark is commonly found in brushing powders. This species was originally widely used by Native American as a toothache remedy and was adopted by the settlers. It was used traditionally for cleaning and drying wounds.
Application of Echinacea root was a Native American remedy for toothache. It has significant anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial powers.
Goldenseal is a major herb for treating infection in the gums. It is most effectively used as a mouthwash that is held in the mouth. A close relative that is interchangeable is coptis, goldthread.
A large number of herbs in the Lamiaceae family are utilized for oral and dental conditions, including rosemary, mints, lavender, and sages. These are aromatic species rich in antimicrobial essential oils, which are often utilized in dry form in brushing powders, and as tinctures and essential oils in mouthwashes. Sage leaves improve bleeding and receding gums, gingivitis and mouth sores. Peppermint leaf is breath freshening and relieves gum inflammation
Licorice roots powder, paste and decoction for mouthwash are one of the best for soothing inflamed gums and treating canker sores. It has anti-plaque action, is antibacterial, and has anti-carious effects.
Turmeric is an important anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial herb that has an important place in dental care. Curcumin modulates inflammatory responses.
Chamomile flowers are anti-inflammatory and can relieve the soreness due to inflamed gums.
Yarrow leaf promotes healing of mouth sores due to braces, surgery and overzealous teeth cleaning. Yarrow is anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, astringent, circulatory stimulant and styptic.
Horsetail contains the highest concentrations of silica known. It’s this silica that is the truly critical ingredient to remineralizing and rebuilding your bones and teeth.
Salt is an important ingredient in many brushing powders. It has antibacterial properties, and an alkalizing effect. Rinsing frequently with saltwater solutions can be beneficial in treating gingivitis.
Sodium Bicarbonate (baking soda) is also commonly found in brushing powders. It inhibits plaque formation and reduces its acidity, supports remineralization of the enamel, and alkalizes the environment of the mouth.
Chew Sticks and Homemade Toothbrushes
Neem, alfalfa, arak, garcinia, sumac, birch, dogwood, marshmallow, horseradish, licorice and cottonwood are all suitable botanicals for making chew sticks. (A reminder about using neem: it can affect fertility and should be avoided by men and women wanting to conceive.) Traditionally, a chew stick is about 5 inches in length and anywhere from 1/4 to 1/2 inch in diameter. With a choice root or twig, bark removed from the section to be inserted in the mouth, the end of the stick is either splayed by hand or chewed.
We can also flavor certain roots and use them to clean the mouth. Phytotherapist David Hoffmann suggests boiling 5-inch (cleaned) pieces of marshmallow root, ends peeled, in water with a cinnamon stick and cloves until tender. After carefully removing each, they are placed in brandy for 24 hours before being removed, dried and stored for later use.
Tooth powders make excellent choices to promote oral health, have been used for centuries and can be blended in large or small batches, altering flavor and herbal action to meet individual needs. They are economical to prepare and have a long shelf life.
Baking soda can be used as a simple tooth powder or as the primary ingredient of a basic formula. Its acid-reducing and antiseptic characteristics, coupled with its soft, low abrasive properties, make it an excellent stand-alone or component for a tooth powder. Baking soda has the added benefit of decreasing surface stains on the teeth.
After choosing herbs to use in a customized tooth powder, perhaps the next most important consideration is to ensure that the herbs we select are powdered finely enough to avoid abrading the teeth and gums.
Michael Moore’s Tooth Powder
• 12 ounces arrowroot
• 1 ounce baking powder or soda
• 1 ounce licorice root
• 1 ounce myrrh
• 1 ounce cloves
• 1 ounce cinnamon
• 1 ounce yerba mansa
• 20 drops peppermint essential oil
• 10 drops wintergreen essential oil
The herbs in this formula are finely powdered, blended and stored in a sealed glass jar. Moore’s recipe provides a sound starting point for an excellent, all-around tooth powder.
Horsetail Tooth Powder adapted from ‘The Boreal Herbal’ by Beverley Gray
- 1 teaspoon dried and ground spring horsetail
- 1 teaspoon dried and ground mint
- 1 teaspoon dried and ground yarrow leaves
- 2 tablespoons fine sea salt
- 2 tablespoons baking soda
- 4 drops tea tree oil (optional)
Grind herbs in a clean coffee grinder. Sift through a mesh strainer to get a fine powder. Add salt, baking soda and tea tree essential oil if using. Blend well, and store in an airtight glass jar. To use, sprinkle a pinch of the tooth powder on a moistened toothbrush. Makes enough for 15-20 brushings.
Echinacea & Spearmint Herbal Toothpaste courtesy of Faith Rodgers, a certified herbalist
4 tablespoons coconut oil
5 tablespoons baking soda
1⁄4 teaspoon kaolin clay (available at your local health-food store)
2 teaspoons echinacea tincture
1⁄4 teaspoon stevia liquid extract (optional)
30 drops spearmint essential oil
- Slowly melt coconut oil in a double boiler until liquid.
- Combine baking soda and kaolin clay in a mixing bowl.
- Pour liquefied coconut oil in with the baking soda and clay mixture, and combine.
- Add echinacea tincture, stevia extract (for flavor) and essential oil, mixing well.
- Stir until coconut oil cools and mixture forms a thick paste. This step is important: If you pour the mixture into your container while the coconut oil is still warm, it may separate.
- Once a thick paste has formed and mixture is completely cool, spoon into a container with a tight-fitting lid.
- To use: Apply a small amount of paste to your toothbrush and brush as normal.
Scrubs and Rinses
Sea salt is a very important, widely available and inexpensive resource for the mouth and probably constitutes the simplest, most effective “tooth powder.” Salt scrubs can be used for a variety of purposes such as exfoliating dry or dead skin from the body in general and in particular as an excellent medium for cleaning the mouth. Natural sea salt can be used as a toothpaste (it is, though, rather salty) and can be applied using a brush or a fingertip. In addition to its wound-healing properties, salt provides a valuable antimicrobial intervention.
A traditional brushing remedy is to use a combination of common garden sage leaves and sea salt. Three or four dried sage leaves can be toasted carefully until crisp or just blackened. With the addition of sea salt, this will yield enough brushing material for two to three uses.
Saltwater can be used alone or blended a thousand ways, depending on our choice of herb. Salt is an excellent anti-inflammatory and a sound, everyday, affordable intervention. Processed table salts, as compared to sea salts, are not only devoid of health-promoting minerals but may have fluoride or iodine added. The following are a few suggestions for how to incorporate saltwater rinsing into a daily regimen:
BASIC SALT SOLUTION: A reasonable starting place for those with sensitive mouths is one teaspoon natural sea salt combined with half a pint of pure water. A stronger saline solution will astringe the gums further; three to four teaspoons can be used routinely. Stir well until the salt is dissolved and an accumulation, or precipitate, is observed.
SALT AND BAKING SODA: Two teaspoons of baking soda can be added to a salt rinse for those who have an affinity for baking soda. It’s often used as a means of affecting the pH of the mouth, making it more alkaline. Some people find the taste of baking soda difficult to tolerate. Herbal teas and decoctions can provide a more supportive and tastier foundation in lieu of water or, for example, a drop of an essential oil such as peppermint can improve flavor.
SALT AND HERBS: Half a teaspoon of any of the following tinctures can be added: cinnamon, clove, echinacea, goldenseal, myrrh, propolis, red clover, rosemary, sage, thyme and/or yarrow. Additionally, as just mentioned, a tea or a decoction can form the basis of any salt rinse. Like water, sufficient salt should be added to take advantage of the anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial actions that salt provides.
Herbal Mouth Rinses
Mouth rinses are used to remove loose debris, freshen the breath and tighten the gums. They can also be used to promote health and well-being. They are most often composed of tinctures, decoctions, teas or blends, and can be used for a variety of purposes, from the daily cleansing of a healthy mouth to the healing of a diseased mouth such as one afflicted by chronic periodontitis.
Rinsing is often the only way to clean the mouth in its entirety. The liquid is swished and gargled, pulled between the teeth, sloshed around in the mouth and then spit out. Always remember, the liquid used to rinse the mouth should never be swallowed after use.
Below are a variety of mouth rinses you can try at home. One of the strengths of the herbs included here is that they can be used for multiple conditions of the mouth and recipes can be altered to meet individual needs.
* Stevia, for sweetness and for its antimicrobial and nutritive properties can be added to any mouthwash recipe. Avoid commercial products and work with the leaf, which can be fresh or dried, or a tincture of the leaf in drop doses. Remember, the stevia leaf is very (very) sweet.
* To freshen the breath, use a tea or tincture of peppermint, rosemary, fennel or anise.
* Mouthwash favorites with a high vitamin C content (more effective choices when addressing gingivitis, early stages of periodontitis, thrush and other oral manifestations that present challenges to the mucosa) include rose hips, red raspberry leaves, blackberries and hibiscus flowers.
* For acute conditions, consider blending echinacea, calendula, plantain, yarrow, myrrh, propolis, prickly ash and/or willow—especially willow in the presence of any pain or discomfort.
* Cardamom, cumin, fennel and orange peel combined make a delicious tea that can also be used as a mouthwash, to freshen the breath and as a digestive tonic.
* Cinnamon and cloves afford antimicrobial activity; for broader action, add one or more of the following: calendula, myrrh, propolis, sage, rosemary, thyme, rose hips or cayenne. Note: Because it’s very hot, only the tiniest pinch of dried cayenne should be added, or two to five drops of tincture to one pint of rinse.
* For early to moderate periodontitis, we can look toward barberry, echinacea, myrrh, cayenne, cinnamon, propolis and/or oak.
* For advanced periodontitis, two parts barberry and one part goldenseal are effective additions to any blend.
As a rinse for before and after visiting a dental professional—and especially if the mouth is prone to bleeding, or an extraction is scheduled—a reliable antimicrobial blend such as the following reduces the likelihood of further infection by providing broad-spectrum antimicrobial action.
• 1 teaspoon yarrow tincture
• 1 to 3 drops myrrh essential oil
• 2 teaspoons echinacea tincture
• 2 teaspoons fresh plantain juice (or leaves can be used to make a quid)
• 10 drops willow tincture
Calendula, turmeric, barberry and goldenseal can also be used, as needed.
Rosemary Gladstar’s Healing Mouthwash
This recipe comes from her book Herbs for the Home Medicine Chest and is a useful intervention when early and moderate signs of inflammation appear.
• 3/4 cup water
• 1/4 cup vodka
• 40 drops, or 2 droppersful, calendula tincture
• 40 drops, 2 droppersful, goldenseal tincture
• 20 drops, 1 dropperful, myrrh tincture
• 1 to 2 drops peppermint essential oil
After mixing and shaking, dilute two to three tablespoons of this mixture in water daily and use as a mouth rinse.
If you are interested in learning more about Holistic Dental Care I suggest checking out the following books:
Dental Herbalism Natural Therapies for the Mouth Leslie M. Alexander & Linda A. Straub-Bruce
Holistic Dental Care The Complete Guide to Healthy Teeth & Gums Nadine Artemis
Take of your teeth! They are very important tools and the only ones you get 🙂
Alexander, Leslie M. & Straub-Bruce, Linda A. . 2014. Dental Herbalism Natural Therapies for the Mouth. Rochester, VT. Healing Arts Press
Crow, David. 2017. Dental Health:Natural Approaches. Medicinal Plants for Protecting the Body, Mind & Spirit course. .
The content on the blog Bear Roots Forest is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. I, the author of Bear Roots Forest, am not a medical professional and the information contained on this blog should not be used to diagnose, treat or prevent any disease or health illness. Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented here. Any statements or claims about the possible health benefits conferred by any foods, supplements, essential oils, or lifestyle changes have not been evaluated by medical professional or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. I, the author of Bear Roots Forest, will not accept responsibility for the actions or consequential results of any action taken by any reader.