Nowadays, numerous dental treatments have been developed, from cosmetic dentistry to surgery and root canals and our reliance on our dentist has increased. In fact, we have mostly forgotten about natural treatments that, at one point, were the only options available to cure toothache and promote good oral hygiene. An enormous variety of such treatments exist worldwide and have been passed from generation to generation, relying on plants available locally. Some of the earliest records available show that people from very early on in developing civilisations were already aware of the importance of keeping a clean mouth and toothbrushes and toothpastes were in use. It’s believed that early dentistry was practiced over 4,000 years ago in ancient Egypt, India, Greece, China and Rome. Furthermore, about 2,500 years ago, the Etruscans invented dental prosthesis, including bridges and retention bands. In those days, cavities were also a problem, and they were filled with garlic, incense and caraway seeds in Egypt, while in Rome, they opted for wood or lead. Patients complaining about toothache were prescribed hashish in Egypt, Greece and Rome, while in South-America, they used cocoa. Even to this day, there are many people, mainly in rural Africa, Middle East, India and South America that still continue the tradition of using chewing sticks and other natural products to prevent toothache. If you’re one of the growing numbers that prefers natural treatments or simply wish to avoid trips to the dentist, you can find some examples here, which can still be used today and are widely available to buy either in your local health shop or on more specialized online shops. These are just some of the most commonly used natural treatments that have some scientific basis, from teeth whitening to substances used to fight tooth infections.
The tooth and supporting structures
All mammals have teeth, and humans are no exception! These structures are located in the maxillary bone, protected by the gums. Teeth are designed to bite, break, grind and tear, which effectively puts a great deal of strain on these structures. Also, contact with different foods can contribute to bacterial development. Regular brushing and flossing, combined with low sugar consumption are essential to prevent dental problems. Learning about how your teeth are formed and common conditions, will help you decide the best way for prevention of dental problems.
The four main constituents are enamel, dentin, cementum and pulp. Enamel is the hardest substance in the body (>90% mineral, mostly calcium phosphate), and is one of the major components of tooth. It is actually what gives your teeth their colour and ranges from light yellow to white/grey. Located under the enamel, dentin covers the more sensitive inner layers of the tooth, but it’s not as hard as enamel. Once enamel has eroded, dentin cannot pro- vide a very effective protection, and the tooth is more sensitive to cavities. The next component is cementum, specialized bone-like structure that covers the root of the tooth, providing a tissue to attach the tooth for stability (it’s like each tooth is concreted in the maxillary bone!). The final part is the pulp, filled with soft connective tissue, blood vessels and nerve endings. Infections in this part are extremely painful and need medical attention.
Connecting the teeth to the maxillary bone are the periodontal ligaments, the alveolar bone and the gums. Periodontal ligaments cover the root, attaching the tooth to the alveolar bone. Every time you chew, your teeth move slightly, putting pressure on the periodontal ligaments. This information is then sent to the brain which “interprets” what you’re eating. Forming a socket around each tooth, is the alveolar bone, which is then covered by the gums. This is the only visible part in your mouth.
Precautions about using natural treatments
Using some of these natural treatments for the first time should be done with caution. In certain circumstances, you may suffer an allergic reaction with dramatic consequences. If you have never tried natural remedies before, it is recommended that you use a lower dose than prescribed to determine how your body can cope with it. You may find that you’re more sensitive than most people to that particular treatment and don’t need the full dose. With a minor complaint, you may be able to resolve the issue with natural treatments. But, if symptoms persist or get worse, seek medical attention at once. A treatable infection can become a serious health issue if left unattended. Pregnant or nursing women should be extra careful about using these treatments, as some can cause miscarriage or be transferred to the milk. Also, the use of natural products can be contraindicated if you take regular medication. It’s recommended that contact your doctor before starting any treatment. Remember that these are natural products and may produce varying results. Always tell your doctor and dentist about any natural products you take, as they may interfere with treatments or medication you may need.
Teeth and gum conditions
Teeth are exposed to a variety of chemicals present in what we eat, which can be damaging if proper dental hygiene is not carried out, and problems may arise very quickly. It only takes 12 days without brushing your teeth for a layer of bacteria to form around the teeth and harden so much that it cannot be removed by brushing alone! From there, bacteria can reach the more sensitive parts of your teeth, causing extremely painful infections.
Plaque is a layer of bacteria that continuously forms around the tooth and gums. If not removed daily, it hardens into a calcified substance called tartar, after which it cannot be removed. This means prevention is essential to avoid any dental problems. In addition to brushing and flossing your teeth regularly, you can use certain natural products to prevent plaque formation, which work by keeping the bacterial levels under control in your mouth.
Tooth decay and cavities
After plaque formation, in the presence of fermentable sugars from food and drink, the bacteria present start producing acid, which is corrosive for the enamel on your teeth. Prolonged exposure to this acid destroys this protective layer, and means bacteria can reach the more sensitive part of the tooth, the pulp. This is when cavities develop in your teeth, which can increase sensitivity. It’s one of the most prevalent diseases in the world, but can be prevented with good oral hygiene, combined with regular use of some natural products as preventative measures.
Gum disease (or periodontal disease) is caused by an infection in the gums. This condition can evolve from initial mild gum infection, which can be reversed (gingivitis), to severe infection (periodontitis) if left untreated, which can be extremely painful and cause teeth loss. Good oral hygiene is the best measure to prevent these infections. To treat mild infections, there are several natural treatments that can be used, but for more severe cases, you should contact your dentist.
Tooth infections can occur after the enamel is damaged, allowing invading bacteria to reach the pulp of the tooth. Infections can also start due to trauma to the tooth or the existence of a cavity. Unfortunately, if left unattended, they can result in abscesses filled with pus in the gums, which can be extremely painful. At this stage, you need to seek medical advice. If you notice it at the early stages, there are a variety of natural products with antimicrobial properties, which can be used to control the infection. In addition, if you want to avoid complicated and expensive visits to the dentist, you may want to start using products as preventative measures to avoid the development of tooth infections. These have mild anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties, which prevent plaque formation and gum disease, and generally keep your oral health in good condition.
Halitosis (bad breath)
Bad breath can be caused by a variety of conditions, such as cavities, gum infections, dry mouth or excessive bacteria. You may think you’re doing the right thing by regularly using mouthwash, but you may just be masking the smell and not solving the problem. You can use some natural products to resolve the situation, but if persists, you should contact your dentist to rule out any serious conditions.
There are many types of mouth sores, including canker sores, cold sores, thrush, and ulcers. They usually disappear after a few days, but in the meantime, there are some natural ways to alleviate the pain and inflammation. If they take longer than 2 weeks to heal or keep recurring, you should consult your doctor.
Nowadays, a beautiful white smile is highly sought after and people resort to using products to whiten their teeth that can be dangerous to gums and can increase teeth sensitivity. Luckily, you have at your disposal a few natural products that can be used to whiten your teeth without any damage being done to your mouth and that are just as effective. They’re also cheaper as well!
Natural treatments and prevention
Your next oral treatment can be lurking in your kitchen cupboard already! Lots of herbs and spices or even fruits have components with anti-inflammatory or antimicrobial properties just waiting to be unleashed. Read about some of the most common treatments.
Cranberries are rich in anti-inflammatory components that can be used to prevent gum disease. They’re also good cleaners, preventing bacteria sticking to your teeth underneath the gum line that can cause infections. Active ingredients: Proanthocyanidins, phenol acids and flavonols How to use it: Gently rinse your teeth in cranberry juice, and then rinse with warm water.
Strawberries, oranges (or lemons), tomatoes and melon
Unfortunately, some of your daily habits like smoking or drinking tea and coffee may contribute to the appearance of stains in your teeth. However, instead of going for commercially-available teeth whitening chemicals, why not reach for the fruit bowl? Combining these fruits with baking soda is probably the best teeth whitening treatments you can try at home, with fast results. Orange, lemon and melon can also be used to stop bleeding gums and prevent accumulation of bacteria. Active ingredients: Malic acid (strawberries, tomatoes and apples) and citric acid (oranges and lemons) How to use it: For teeth whitening, rub your teeth with strawberries, tomatoes or orange peel and leave for a few minutes. Rinse off with warm water with a pinch of bicarbonate soda (baking soda). Alternatively, go for a slice of melon, about an hour after finishing your meal to clean your teeth and prevent bacteria accumulation. To stop bleeding gums, squeeze the juice of half lemon into a glass of water and drink. Contraindications: Should not be used regularly on a long-term basis, as acid present in these fruits will start eroding the enamel in your teeth, increasing your teeth sensitivity.
Green, black and oolong tea
Next time you go for a cuppa, just remember that all types of tea are rich in cathecins and polyphenols, which are well-recognised antioxidants with a variety of health benefits. Another one to add to the list is their ability to reduce caries formation, prevent bacterial infections in the mouth and alleviate toothache symptoms. This popular beverage also contains fluoride, which can suppress bacteria development and prevent tooth decay and plaque. Active ingredients: Cathecin-based polyphenols, fluoride How to use it: To alleviate toothache, place a tea bag directly over the infected tooth and leave for a few hours. To use as prevention to decrease plaque formation, prepare a cup of tea and let it brew for a few minutes to allow the maximum amount of fluoride to get in the water. Use to rinse your mouth, especially after eat- ing sweets. Contraindications: Don’t use regularly, as prolonged contact with your teeth can cause damage to the enamel.
Onions and garlic
You may not like the outcome of using this treatment, but onions and garlic can fight tooth and gum infections by reducing bacteria present in your mouth. You’ll end up with temporary bad breath, but it’s beneficial in the long term. Active ingredient: Allicin How to use it: Chewing raw onion or garlic. Garlic capsules are also available to relieve infection.
Contraindications: Garlic not recommended if you regularly take blood thinners.
We all know how important dairy products are as a source of calcium to maintain strong teeth and bones. It’s also true that regular consumption of dairy products, including milk, cheese and yoghurt, can prevent gum infection and tooth decay. Fatty acids present in these products have antimicrobial properties, while casein coats the tooth, giving them a natural protection of the enamel. Active ingredients: Fatty acids, casein How to use it: Regular consumption of dairy products, especially at the end of a meal if you can’t brush your teeth immediately. Next time you go out, why not go for the cheese instead of a sweet desert?
Contraindications: Do not use if you’re allergic to milk.
You may not have heard about some of these plants, and may be thinking where are you going to find them. Probably not sold in your local garden centre, but these treatments are available either in your regular health shop or on more specialized health stores online. Some are available as essential oils to use as mouthwashes, while others are sold in powdered form or even already incorporated in natural toothpastes and other oral products ready to use. These started as local treatments in various locations around the world, but now have outgrown their localized beginnings and are getting more and more popular in the western countries.
Neem (Azadirachtaindica, Melaphischinensis)
This has been traditionally used by East Indians for generations to prevent gum disease and plaque formation due to its antimicrobial and anti-fungal properties, which help stop the infection. You should consider this your last resort as it is a very powerful treatment and should be used with care. Active ingredient: Gallotanin How to use it: You can buy neem oil or powder, to apply directly on the infected tooth. As a prevention, there are also available on the market, toothpastes with neem, or you can buy chewing sticks to use in addition to regular tooth-brushing. Contraindications: Care should be taken in particular in long-term treatments, as it’s been shown that it affects the reproductive and digestive systems.
Licorice roots have traditionally been used in Indian culture for over 3000 years as a replacement for toothbrushes. Studies have confirmed that this popular plant has anti-cavity and antimicrobial properties and reduces plaque. Active ingredient: Not known How to use it: Chewing sticks, in the morning and evening and after every meal. Contraindications: It is a potent treatment and should be taken with care. It may cause headaches and water retention and should not be used by pregnant or nursing women, or people on blood thinners or suffering from high blood pressure.
Blood root (Sanguinariacanadensis)
This plant is at the centre of some controversy. On one hand, some studies seem to demonstrate that it can stimulate blood circulation in the gums and also has a mild antimicrobial effect. On the other hand, there are some indications that it may be linked to increase in oral cancer, although this has not been confirmed. For further information, consult your doctor. Active ingredient: Sanguinarine How to use it: Available as tablets, dried root or extracts to make your own mouth- wash or apply directly to the infected tooth. Recommended doses are 0.06 – 0.5 g three times daily or 1:3 60% alcohol – 0.2 – 1 ml three times daily. You can also find natural mouthwashes and toothpaste with blood root as one of the main ingredients. Contraindications: Should always be used in low dosage. Large doses have a sedative effect, and overdoses can be deadly. Also, it is not to be used as a long-term treatment. If you’re planning to use bloodroot as an oral supplement, contact your doctor first.
Clove oil (Syzygiumaromaticum)
Over the last few years, these 2 plants have received some attention from the scientific community. Preparations of both these plants have been shown to have anti- inflammatory and anaesthetic properties and are ideal for use in intense toothache, when chewing or talking give you throbbing pain. Active ingredient: Alkaloids How to use it: Tablets are available (follow recommended dose). Contraindications: Several side-effects may occur, including blurred vision, headache and nausea. Consult your doctor if you experience any after taking either of these plants. Echinacea should not be taken for longer than 2 weeks, as it de- creases your immune system, making you more susceptible to infections.
Asafoetida (Ferula assafoetida)
This plant has been used in alternative medicine for many years, with claims that it cures indigestion and chronic fatigue, to name just a few. It’s also used traditionally as a fast remedy for toothache. Active ingredient: Not known How to use it: Available as powder. Mix with warm lemon juice and apply directly onto the offending tooth. Contraindications: Not recommended to pregnant women, as it has been proved to cause miscarriages.
Bay berry (Myricarubra)
Studies have shown that the bark of bay berry has anti-inflammatory properties. It can be used to relieve toothache or apply directly on mouth sores and ulcers to reduce pain and inflammation. It also helps strengthen the gums in the long-term. Active ingredient: Myricetin How to use it: Sold as powder, which can be prepared into a paste and applied to the tooth. It is also available as a mouthwash and extract. Contraindications: It may cause allergies and stomach discomfort, including vomiting. Stop taking this product immediately and seek medical advice.
Tea tree oil (Melaleucaalternifolia), coconut oil (Cocusnucifera), sesame oil (Sesamumindicum), peppermint oil (Menthapiperita) and rosemary oil (Rosmaniru- sofficinalis)
Their impact on oral health was discovered in India, but now are also commonly available in health stores, these essential oils are known for their antibacterial properties and are used to prevent halitosis developing in your breath. Active ingredient: Cineole, terpine, piperitone and other similar alkaloids present in the essential oils How to use it: Most are common ingredients in natural toothpastes and mouth washes, or can be added to your regular toothpaste. These oils can also be massaged onto your gum to alleviate pain and inflammation, or you can gargle with warm essential oil to prevent gum disease (do not swallow). Contraindications: If you’re pregnant or nursing, suffer from conditions such as high blood pressure, kidney problems, or experienced allergies to essential oils in the past; consult your medical provider before starting this treatment.
Vanilla is not only good for ice-cream; it can also provide temporary relief for toothache, until you can see your dentist. Active ingredient: Not known How to use it: You can chew the entire pod, concentrating on the site of the infection, or gargle with vanilla extract to relief pain and irritation. Contraindications: If you’re allergic to gluten, chose a gluten-free vanilla extract, so you don’t experience any reaction.
The list of natural treatments is long and includes many others not named in this book, using plants with similar characteristics. Different treatments have evolved in different regions, making use of local plants. For example, people in South- America commonly use cocoa beans to brush their teeth, while African tribes prefer to use chewing sticks. Over the past few years, science has become very curious about these treatments and has been assessing claims of antimicrobial and anti- inflammatory properties, revealing that most of them are real. Furthermore, new substances are being discovered with potential to improve our dental health, including shells of crustaceans, wasabi and even shiitake mushrooms. You’ll never know… you may be able to buy lobster toothpaste or wasabi mouth wash in the near future! Just a final word of caution, as with all natural treatments, you should consider consulting your doctor before starting any therapy, especially if you’re pregnant or nursing, or if you need regular medication. Also, in the event of a serious infection, you need to seek medical attention, as these treatments may be not enough to pre- vent the infection to spread throughout your body. Also, always remember to in- form your doctor dentist of any natural products you regularly take.