Herbal Oral Care

01.18.2010

Herbal Oral Care

I recently came across this very thorough look at using herbs for oral care on 1sthealthsource.com:

"We'll have to operate, but we may yet save some of your teeth. It's expensive and painful, but there's no other choice." That was the dentist's final opinion.

Sat Darshan, 53, of Yadkinville, North Carolina, had serious gum disease, brought on, in his words, by a "history of poor oral hygiene, a lifetime of late night sweets, and decades of smoking." His gums were painful and bleeding, and his teeth wiggled in their sockets.

Never one to take a crisis sitting down, Darshan began to explore natural alternatives. His first stop was Bastyr University Naturopathic Clinic in Seattle, Washington. His naturopathic physician recommended daily doses of Coenzyme Q10 to stabilize the gum tissue, and a few basic lifestyle changes. These measures slowed the degeneration, which provided some hope.

Darshan's actual recovery started when he sought out herbal therapy as a last resort. On the advice of a herbalist, Darshan began a regime of nightly gum packs made from herbs rolled in gauze, which he tucked into the corners of his mouth. A combination of turmeric, aloe, willow bark, vitamin E, and powdered alum did the trick. He rapidly noted a "significant turnaround," and by the four- month mark was out of crisis.

Darshan's periodontist concurred. Following therapy, which also included dietary supplements and brushing his teeth with a mixture of powdered alum and salt, the his teeth were more solid in his mouth, and he avoided any extractions. Now, four years later, Darshan still has no significant periodontal disease, just a couple of spots, which is quite normal for a man his age. Even though Darshan's results were dramatic, he emphasizes that it "didn't just happen. It took a tremendous amount of effort and some discomfort" to save his teeth.

Natural Dental Care
Contrary to popular belief, your teeth are designed to last a lifetime. Even so, an increasing percentage of Americans wear dentures. According to the dental profession, between 80 and 90 percent of our population has some observable gum disease.

Taken together, tooth cavities (dental caries) and gum (periodontal) disease, create a painful condition that causes tooth loss and is expensive to correct. Americans spend more than $40 billion a year to treat and slow the degeneration of their dental health.

Dental disease has a reciprocal effect with overall body health. If you're over stressed and generally unhealthy, your immune system will be suppressed and dental caries, caused by bacteria, will flourish. If your mouth is unhealthy, especially with gum disease, it overloads your health every moment of the day, lowering your resistance to all disease.

A clean mouth is a healthy mouth. As the saying goes, "clean only the teeth you want to keep." In addition to conventional care, the main way to keep your mouth clean is to eat a sugar-free, natural foods diet. The bacteria that cause dental caries (Streptococcus mutans) thrive on sugar.

Natural Tooth Brushing
Since tooth brushing is the most basic process in oral care, it's a good place to start your natural tooth and gum care program. Traditional peoples the world over use natural tooth brushes made from healing plants. These primitive twig "brushes" actually work quite well, and provide a natural-bristle, disposable brush with healing herbs already incorporated right in the plant. Children find them particularly fun.

Herbalist Lesley Tierra, L.Ac., in her excellent book The Herbs of Life (Crossing Press, 1992), suggests that "the twigs contain volatile oils which stimulate blood circulation, tannins that tighten and cleanse gum tissue and other materials, such as vitamin C, which maintain healthy gums. Bay, eucalyptus, oak, fir, and juniper all work well for this." In Asia, people often use twigs of the neem tree (Azadirachta indica).

In The New Holistic Herbal (Element, 1983), noted British herbalist David Hoffmann suggests using the roots of marshmallow, licorice, alfalfa, or horseradish. (See "Head Popping Horseradish," page 52 for more information.) Of course, most of us will brush with a more modern, nylon-bristle brush.

Herbal medicine abounds with great substitutes for store-bought toothpaste. Most effective natural tooth powders are warming, which promotes circulation in the gums; astringent, which tightens the gums; and detoxifying, which removes debris. Of course any preparation should also remove plaque.

A classic Ayurvedic combination contains two parts powdered potassium alum, an astringent, and one part powdered salt. Prickly ash bark is a classic toothpowder from North America, and myrrh gum is widely used in Middle Eastern herbalism. Tea tree oil (very dilute) stimulates circulation and kills germs, and Leslie Tierra recommends a macrobiotic preparation of the ash of the calyx of the eggplant, which she says will cure "any toothache, pyorrhea, and other mouth and gum disorders."

And while you're concentrating on brushing and flossing, don't overlook the fact that cleaning the tongue is a critical part of maintaining oral health. Ayurveda, in particular, emphasizes this daily practice. Brush your tongue while brushing your teeth, or use a tongue scraper, which you'll find in most health food stores. Tongue cleaning reduces bad breath, and helps prevent plaque.



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