Like the rest of our body, our teeth and oral health systems are a living, changing, environment.
That is, by just treating from the outside alone (brushing and flossing), you won’t fix any of your oral problems unless you address the inside too. Optimal oral health comes with supporting the body and mouth from the inside and outside at the same time.
Our patients regularly ask us about holistic and natural dental care tips to practice at home. Here are a few of our favorite essentials:
As the function of the bacteria in the mouth becomes more understood, ancient techniques to support oral hygiene are becoming more popular. One practice backed by numerous studies is called tongue scraping (Jihwa Prakshalana). It reduces undesirable bacteria which helps in decreasing the likelihood of dental decay and oral disease. It also reduces volatile sulfur compounds (VSC) which are linked to halitosis (bad breath). Lastly, by stimulating the taste buds with tongue scraping, the tongue is better able to perceive tastes and properly aid in digestion.
This is yet another Ayurvedic practice. The procedure involves rinsing (swishing) 1 tablespoon of oil around in your mouth. In order for the therapeutic effect to kick in, a person must swish with the oil for 15-20 minutes each time. The oil “pulls” the bad bugs from under your gums and in between your teeth as though they are being drawn to a powerful magnet. Do not gargle or swallow. And make sure you spit in a trashcan, otherwise spitting in the sink will clog your plumbing.
We do not believe oil pulling is an alternative to flossing or addressing gum infection or inflammation: however, we do not think it’s harmful. It’s also a great pre-bedtime option for patients who suffer from dry mouth issues.
Salt Water Rinses
Salt water rinses are good because they alkalinize the mouth and the alkalinity helps kill the acid-producing bacteria which cause dental disease and tooth decay. If a patient cannot stomach oil pulling this is a good alternative, and as it also reduces inflammation and promotes a good oral pH, the result will be a healthier mouth. Adding a few drops of essential oils like clove or mint (to the salt water) helps with freshening breath too.
We’re also okay with using a little diluted 35% food grade hydrogen peroxide as a rinse. Dilute it about 50% with water. It’s inexpensive and very effective. We like to have patients stay away from alcohol-based rinses because they are really harsh with chemicals which can be irritating to the gums and dehydrating for teeth—in some patients, it can cause hypersensitivity.
Our patients are asking us how we feel about the latest craze in the path to whiter teeth, and it’s covered in a pitch-black paste. Bloggers and vloggers claim that brushing with activated charcoal is an all-natural way to remove surface stains caused by coffee, tea and wine without bleach or abrasives. To prove it, they’re flaunting soot-covered teeth straight out of a horror movie. The result? Fluorescent white teeth after as few as one use, proponents say.
However, there’s no evidence at all that charcoal does any good for your teeth. There could even be potential damage to your teeth and gums: like any abrasive, we’re worried about the effects on the gums and enamel on the teeth. We just don’t yet know about the safety and effectiveness of charcoal toothpaste in order to endorse it.
There are other (safer, more effective, and less messy) DIY ways to whiten: try brushing with a baking soda and hydrogen peroxide mixture once or twice a week. Combine about 2 tablespoons of hydrogen peroxide with 1 tablespoon of baking soda. The mildly abrasive nature of baking soda (emphasis on mild) can remove stains, naturally whitening the teeth. Just remember: this isn’t a replacement for your go-to paste—just an add-on to your routine if you’re looking for a natural whitener.
The main thing to avoid in a regular whitening toothpaste is anything that’s highly abrasive, particularly if you have thin enamel or receding gums, as a rough paste could cause more damage than good. If you do go the DIY charcoal-route, we suggest using it sparingly and discontinuing if your teeth become sensitive.
Some patients who take alternative medicines are afraid we won’t respect their decision to take an herbal medication and will tell them to stop taking it; however, as herbal medications become more popular, many dentists are beginning to use them in their practices. We highly support your use of supplements to nurture your healthy lifestyle and optimal overall wellness, but we just want you to be smart about it. Remember that the quality of your supplements matter, and be sure to research the quality of your supplements and only consume supplements from sources that you trust.
Whether it’s echinacea or aspirin, always tell your dentist about any medications and supplements you are taking. Everything you ingest, even vitamins, causes a certain reaction. If your dentist doesn’t know what drugs or supplements you have taken, he or she will not know how to protect you from possible substance interactions. This is particularly important if you are undergoing any surgical treatment.