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Good oral hygiene is a critical part of your daily health care routine. But do you even know what all those chemicals are in your mainstream toothpaste and mouthwash? Avoid them, and brush up instead on seven great natural alternatives to harsh oral care ingredients:
1. Xylitol, a naturally occurring carbohydrate in fruits and vegetables, is a safe alternative to artificial sweeteners to enhance flavor and add sweetness. Xylitol has also been shown to reduce the risk of cavities—in some studies, more effectively than fluoride. Product picks: Xlear Spry Spearmint Toothpaste; the natural Dentist Original Orange Zest with Xylitol Toothpaste.
2. Neem oil, from an evergreen tree native to India, has been used for thousands of years to treat gum disease, tooth decay, and mouth ulcers. Because it’s a potent antimicrobial, neem can prevent the growth of bacteria that cause tooth decay and bad breath. Product picks: Botanique by Himalaya Herbal Healthcare Neem and Pomegranate Toothpaste; Organix south TheraNeem Neem Toothpaste with Cinnamon.
3. Tea tree oil is an anti-inflammatory that also helps fight bacteria in the mouth; studies show it’s effective in treating halitosis and gingivitis. Product picks: Desert Essence Natural Refreshing Tea Tree Oil Mouthwash; Thursday Plantation Tea Tree Toothpaste.
4. Baking soda, or sodium bicarbonate, lightens stains, freshens breath, reduces acid in the mouth, and inhibits plaque formation. Baking soda toothpaste may also have a stain-prevention effect. Product picks: Tom’s of maine Peppermint Baking Soda Anticavity Paste; eco-dent Ultimate Natural DailyRinse Clean Mint.
5. Witch hazel. Grain alcohol, used in most mouthwashes, irritates delicate gum tissue; witch hazel is gentle, works as a mild astringent, and soothes gum and mouth tissue. Product picks: Jason Healthy Mouth Mouthwash; Jason Power Smile All Natural Mouthwash.
6. Aloe vera has anti-inflammatory and antiviral properties, and has been used for hundreds of years to treat mouth lesions, cold sores, and gum abscesses. In one study, aloe vera gel was as effective as pharmaceutical medications in treating swollen and infected gums. Product picks: Kiss My Face Aloe Vera Whitening Toothpaste; Vitacare Cool Mint Key Lime Multicare Mouthwash.
7. Natural waxes such as beeswax are better alternatives to the petrochemical waxes used on mainstream flosses. Natural floss is also treated with pure essential oils like peppermint, anise, and cinnamon to freshen breath and heal gums. Product picks: Desert Essence Tea Tree Oil Dental Floss; Radius Natural Antibacterial Cranberry Floss.
Lisa Turner is a freelance writer, book author, and nutrition consultant based in Boulder, Colo. She is also the creator of the iPhone app Inspired Eats by The Healthy Gourmet, available at iTunes.
Healthy Teeth = Healthy Body
Most of us don’t think about how teeth affect the rest of the body, but new research may be changing that. Studies demonstrate that poor oral health may be an overlooked risk factor for many chronic diseases. Bacteria from the mouth can migrate to other areas, spreading inflammation and low-grade infections and even contributing to artery hardening—a huge risk for cardiovascular disease. Dentists may soon become more like primary care providers, as the relationships between oral and overall health become more evident.
A large Swedish study followed a group of people for nearly 15 years, to determine if there was relationship between dental plaque and premature cancer death. Results showed that people with more plaque died of cancer significantly earlier than those with less plaque. This is not an isolated study. The links between gum disease, chronic inflammation, cancer, and heart disease are becoming more widely acknowledged in the scientific literature.
Taking Steps to Protect Yourself
First the obvious: Brush and floss after every meal, and visit your dentist at least twice a year. Avoid sugar and sweets, the foods that feed bacteria and inflammation. Emphasize fresh vegetables, lean protein, and healthy fats in your diet.
Next, supplement with natural anti-inflammatory herbs and nutrients that reduce inflammation and combat infection. You can help control the inflammation and bacteria associated with plaque and gum disease by targeting inflammation throughout the body, including teeth and gums.
We need to evolve from the mindset that oral health and overall health are somehow separate. By caring for our teeth and gums, we can actively support vitality and longevity: a win-win situation.
—Isaac Eliaz, MD, LAc
Probiotics for fresh breath
Probiotics can stop halitosis in its tracks by improving the balance of good bacteria in the mouth. And according to clinical trials, certain strains of probiotics can even help whiten teeth by producing hydrogen peroxide. So take your probiotic supplements, eat your yogurt and other fermented foods, and look for oral care products with probiotics.
Product picks: Garden of Life Extraordinary Beauty Probiotic Smile (sugar-free probiotic mints); The Vitamin Shoppe Chewable Probiotic.