I’ve been spending a lot of time ruminating on dental health. Last year I started seeing a dentist again after a long hiatus. As a youngster I dutifully saw the dentist every six months, thanks to our family’s dental insurance.
As an adult I had no issues with my teeth and no dental insurance, so it became a low priority. However, last year I decided it was better to see the dentist as preventive care and especially before major problems erupted!
I researched a lot of dentists to find one I thought would be a good match for me. I was specifically wanting a dentist with a more holistic approach, who had many years of experience and who stayed current with dental research.
Once I found a good match I scheduled an appointment, admittedly with a little trepidation. After not seeing the dentist for many years I was a little nervous at what he might find.
I left my initial appointment with relief! I had some issues with a crown that needed to be dealt with, but I had no current cavities. The biggest concern, however, was my gums. I was showing beginning stages of gingivitis as evidenced by bleeding gums and pockets that were measured in the fours and fives.
I wasn’t nervous about my gums though; I knew I had herbs to help me! From that day forward I brushed and flossed daily (as usual) and I also used an herbal mouth wash at least once a day.
Three months later I was back at the dentist to get the crown work done and I requested to have my pockets re-evaluated. At first the dentist said there was no point in checking again so soon since there was no way my gums could have made any significant changes, but I insisted.
No more bleeding gums! AND all of my pockets had been reduced to one’s and two’s. The dental hygienist who did the original evaluation and the follow up was amazed. He’d never seen such dramatic results.
Thank you, herbs!
Before we get into today’s herbal homemade mouthwash recipe I want to say a few things about dental health.
Modern popular opinion often falsely believes that dental health is solely a localized issue. But even if someone has impeccable oral hygiene, meaning that they brush and floss every day, use mouth washes, etc., tooth decay and gum disease can still be an issue. Thus, we need to take a more holistic approach to dental health and understand that it is a systemic issue as well as a localized issue.
So What Does That Mean? Systemic vs. Local?
When I say a local problem, I am referring to the bacteria in the mouth that undeniably play a role in tooth decay and gum disease. These harmful bacteria eat carbohydrates in the mouth and then excrete acids that alter the pH of the mouth.
When the pH around teeth drops below 5.5 it starts to erode the enamel. Erosion of the enamel leads to porous teeth. Bacteria can then continue to bore through these holes, going through all layers of the tooth until it reaches the tooth pulp, which then creates a major infection.
These bacteria are always present in the mouth and we have three major ways of combatting their ill effects:
1. Manually Removing Food Debris and Plaque and Tartar
The most commonly known way to promote dental health is of course to brush and floss daily and to use a mouth wash. By ridding the mouth of food debris it also helps to decrease the amount of bacteria in the mouth. Brushing, flossing and using a mouth wash decreases the build up of plaque, which then decreases the amount of tartar. Regular visits to the dental hygienist will remove any built up tartar.
2. Healthy Mouth Bacteria
Most of us have heard of the concept of promoting healthy gut bacteria and the same principles apply to the mouth. There are beneficial and harmful bacteria in the mouth and by supporting beneficial bacteria through healthy lifestyle practices (such as diet) it can decrease the harmful bacteria.
3. Remineralization of Teeth
Our skin is constantly regenerating itself, sloughing off dead skin cells and regenerating new ones. The same thing is true of our hair and finger and toe nails. Can you imagine only having one set of fingernails your whole life? Teeth are similar in that they can actually remineralize. Earlier we learned that harmful bacteria can make our teeth porous, which then makes us susceptible to further dental erosion. But the initial stages of tooth decay is reversible!
Our saliva is designed to remineralize our teeth and, in doing so, can continually build our tooth enamel. The catch is that the saliva has to contain a plentiful amount of minerals in order to remineralize our teeth effectively. In order for our saliva to have minerals we have to be ingesting minerals in our diet and avoid activities that decrease minerals in our body (such as sugar consumption and chronic stress).
Dental Health is Multifactorial
Admittedly this is a tip of the iceberg approach to dental health. I am in the process of writing a more thorough dental health essay on HerbMentor.com. Even though this article isn’t a complete essay on dental health I wanted to at least mention the multi-factorial approach to dental health, so that readers can understand that the following recipe is not a magic cure all, but instead part of a larger protocol for dental health.
Many medicinal herbs can be strong allies against dental decay. They can be used as topical antimicrobials to decrease harmful bacteria, they can tone spongy gums and heal mouth ulcers, and nutritive herbs (and foods) can be used dietarily to help remineralize our teeth.
This remedy focuses on the topical antimicrobial nature of herbs. Keep in mind that many different herbs can be used with great results. I am sharing the particular recipe that I used, and you can use this as a guide to create your own formula.
Before we get to the recipe, let’s look at the herbs.
Echinacea (Echinacea angustifolia, E. purpurea)
Echinacea is often wrongly pigeonholed as a cold and flu herb, but Echinacea is so much more than that! It is the one herb I reach for most frequently for infections and hot eruptions like boils, acne and yes, even mouth infections.
Echinacea is anti-microbial, it boosts the immune system and can draw out infections. Sometimes Echinacea is even referred to as the toothache plant. According to herbalist Paul Bergner, Echinacea was used as a dental remedy by many Native American tribes, including the Omaha Ponca, Oglala Dakota, Cheyenne, Crow and Comanche.
Echinacea is rapidly disappearing from the wild. When you purchase Echinacea products please only buy Echinacea from a cultivated source.
Oregon Grape Root (Mahonia angustifolia, M. nervosa)
Oregon grape root is a wonderful antimicrobial herb that can address a variety of infections. It is also astringent, helping to tighten and tone tissues, which is especially useful for swollen and inflamed gums.
Plantain (Plantago major, P. lanceolata)
Plantain is scorned as a weed by many but is a beloved herb to those who truly know it. The list of plantain’s medicinal abilities could go on and on so for this we’ll simply say it is a wonderful herb to help heal wounds and fight infection.
Propolis is a resin collected from beehives. Bees harvest various resins and volatile oils from nearby plants to create propolis, which is then used in the hive to seal unwanted gaps and prevent pathogenic invasion. Propolis is used worldwide on tooth infections as it is an incredible antimicrobial herb.
Herbal Homemade Mouthwash
Today’s recipe is really simple. You can make it either by purchasing/harvesting these herbs and tincturing them yourself, or by simply buying the tinctures already made and mixing them together.
- 1/2 ounce Echinacea tincture
- 1/4 ounce Oregon grape root tincture
- 1/8 ounce plantain tincture
- 1/8 ounce propolis tincture
Simply combine the above amounts in an amber bottle with a dropper.
To use, place 30 to 60 drops in a mouthful of water.
Note: the water will turn cloudy as a result of the propolis resin mixing with water.
Swish for 5 to 20 seconds and then spit out the mixture. Rinse if desired.
Since my gums have completely healed since my last checkup, I now use this homemade mouthwash preventively. Along with all the steps I take for dental health I hope to avoid gum disease in the future!