Essential Oils for the Mouth

Alvin H. Danenberg, DDS Nutritional Periodontist
October 2, 2017 [printfriendly]



Essential Oils for the MouthEssential oils used in the mouth will kill bacteria. Medical studies show that essential oils may work as well as chlorhexidine, which is the gold standard to kill mouth bacteria. In fact, essential oils often taste better than chlorhexidine and will not stain teeth as chlorhexidine will do. It appears that essential oils could be a boon for dentistry. So, why not choose to use mouthwashes containing high amounts of essential oils daily since they may be extremely effective in killing microbes?


Well, because certain essential oils in high concentrations may kill bacteria indiscriminately just like chlorhexidine. Also, high amounts of some essential oils may damage healthy gum tissue cells just like chlorhexidine.


Published Medical Research

Various studies, which have been published recently in the medical literature, demonstrate that different types of essential oils will reduce gum infection effectively by killing bacteria, reducing bleeding, and decreasing inflammation. This research suggests that essential oils may be as effective or almost as effective as chlorhexidine.[1],[2],[3],[4] Therefore, either antimicrobial mouthwashes – those containing essential oils or those containing chlorhexidine –  could help with acute infection.


Essential oil mouthwashes can even help with bad breath.[5]


Still another fact is that traditional antibiotics create resistant strains of bacteria. In contrast, essential oils and other plant-derived antimicrobials tend not to create resistant microbes.[6]


All sounds great. However, here are some caveats:

1. There are no FDA controls in place regulating the purity and concentrations of essential oils used for therapeutic purposes.[7] Therefore, if you were putting together your own concoction of essential oils for a mouthwash, you might not know what was really in that mouthwash. Also, some essential oils are more potent than others.


2. Various published studies show that chlorhexidine could be toxic to gum tissue cells around teeth, and these studies suggest that some essential oils could also be toxic. These ingredients might prevent healthy gum tissue cells from functioning properly and reproducing normally.[8],[9]


3. In addition, frequent use of chlorhexidine and other antimicrobial mouthwashes may destroy necessary bacteria on the tongue that are critical for an important biological pathway.[10] This pathway produces nitric oxide from natural nitrates in various healthy vegetables we eat. The bacteria on the tongue are responsible for up to 25% of nitric oxide production in the body through this pathway that starts in the mouth. Studies prove that nitric oxide is critical in the control of high blood pressure, support of cardiovascular health, and reduction of gingivitis.[11],[12]


Benefits from Healthy Mouth Bacteria

It is not healthy to kill bacteria indiscriminately anywhere in or on the body. I wrote about the biological benefits of healthy bacteria in the mouth. HERE. HERE. Healthy plaque contains a bacterial population that balances acids around the teeth, assists in remineralization of the tooth surface, and kills pathogenic bacteria that might try to cause disease around the tooth. Healthy bacteria on the tongue, as I stated above, are necessary to change nitrates from healthy foods to eventually nitric oxide for the health of the cardiovascular system and the health of gum tissues around the teeth.


Bottom Line

Many companies that manufacture and sell essential oils state that essential oils will only kill bad bacteria and leave good bacteria alone. The current medical research I uncovered suggests that some essential oils will kill microbes effectively but indiscriminately, especially in high concentrations.


Studies show that essential oils may enhance healing following active treatment of dental disease.[13] But, when some are used on a daily basis in high concentrations and not along with professional treatment of acute infection, they could do harm to healthy bacteria and to healthy gum tissues.


In my mind, I see dental disease as mainly a disease of diet and lifestyle. There is scientific evidence that eating nutrient-dense, anti-inflammatory foods can prevent, reduce, and even reverse signs of gum disease and tooth decay[14],[15],[16]. Why not first investigate and incorporate healthier ways of eating, living, and cleaning our mouths instead of just looking for chemicals in mouthwashes to solve our dental ills?


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