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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Just Give Me A Prescription and Be Done With It?

Alvin H. Danenberg, DDS Nutritional Periodontist
January 8, 2016 [printfriendly]



Just give me a prescription?So, your gums are bleeding. You think, “Just give me a prescription and be done with it.” Well, that may treat the immediate symptom of bleeding gums, but it hardly goes to the cause of the disease.


Just a prescription for an antibiotic may kill some of the offending bugs around your teeth that are causing the acute infection of bleeding gums. But, this medicine will also kill hundreds of species of beneficial bacteria in your mouth and thousands of species of beneficial bacteria in your gut – all of which you need for your body to function in a healthy state.


You need to realize that your bleeding gums are the result of various factors. Just like any manifestation of disease, you would be better served if you could determine the actual cause of the disease and correct it rather than just take a pill to only deal with the symptoms. Then, you might prevent the disease from coming back in the future.


Reducing the out-of-control bacteria may be the first treatment, but don’t forget that follow-up treatment is necessary to remove the underlying causes.


Still, you have bleeding gums. What can you do right away to stop it?

  • Essential oils have antimicrobial properties. A potent essential oil is oil of oregano. You could add two drops of oil of oregano to one teaspoon of coconut oil and swish this in your mouth for about a minute and then spit out. Do this four times a day for a week.
  • Sometimes a mouth rinse of diluted hydrogen peroxide (1.5% hydrogen peroxide) used four times a day for a period of one week could help reduce the inflammation. You could purchase 3% hydrogen peroxide at the drug store and dilute it (1 teaspoon of 3% hydrogen peroxide to 1 teaspoon of filtered water). A commercially available product is alcohol-free Peroxyl by Colgate. This is an over-the-counter, 1.5% hydrogen peroxide solution that I have found to be effective for some of my patients. Be aware that the use of hydrogen peroxide for more than a week could increase the potential for a yeast infection and soft tissue damage.
  • Sometimes a prescribed antibiotic is necessary if the acute infection is aggressive. If you need to take an antibiotic, I would advise taking a probiotic along with it and continue taking it for several weeks thereafter. Probiotics help restore healthy bacteria in your gut and in your mouth. Eating live-culture fermented vegetables like sauerkraut or kimchi as well as unsweetened plain yogurt also will help support the good bacteria in your mouth and your body. (Peer-reviewed articles on probiotics and oral health: Here, Here, Here.)


But, this is critical:
It is important to see a dental professional who can diagnose gum diseases properly. In addition, in my opinion, this professional also needs to understand the intricate relationships between (1) nutrition and lifestyle factors and (2) other contributing factors resulting in your bleeding gums. Proper treatment in its proper sequence is important to rid you of the potentially health-damaging infection of gum disease.




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What’s In Your Arsenal For Infection?

evolution rWould you rush to take an antibiotic if you had an infection?
An antibiotic might kill the bad bacteria, but it also would kill good bacteria, might damage your gut, and generally would not kill viruses. In addition, resistant strains of bacteria could develop from the use of an antibiotic. However, if a bacterial infection were potentially severe, then an appropriate antibiotic very well could be the best and first course of treatment.
Another way to think about infection:
Prevention should be practiced proactively.
• Consider eating nutrient-dense real foods and fermented foods and avoiding toxic foods. Investigate taking some real-food supplements. These steps will go a long way to help your immune system, your natural good bacteria, and your gut defend you against invaders.
• As for your mouth, brushing properly, using a mouth rinse like coconut oil, and cleaning between the teeth with floss and an interdental brush are very effective and preventive methods to maintain health.
Exercise and sleep are also important. Include efficient exercise into a weekly routine, and obtain restorative sleep each night. These also will enhance your immune system.
But what happens if you get an infection? Is there an option other than a prescribed antibiotic?
Essential oils may be an answer. On 10/23/14, I searched for “antimicrobial effects of essential oils in humans”. PubMed is a government site that catalogs all medical research from around the world for easy access by anyone. I discovered a total of 816 papers that were published since 1966, of which 284 were published since January 2010. Along with the controversy, there is a growing interest in researching the power of essential oils.
What are essential oils?
Technically, essential oils are not really oils since they do not contain “lipids”. Instead, they are highly complex compounds, which may consist of several hundred different components of alcohols, aldehydes, terpenes, ethers, ketones, phenols, and oxides – many of which may not be known by science. These “oils” are an “essential” part of plants. They function as the plant’s immune system to protect them from microbes and pests that may attack them.
Essential oils have been used for thousands of years. The earliest recorded references can be traced back to 4500 BC. While many have been reported to have beneficial effects, some essential oils have been shown to be toxic to humans.
Today, science has demonstrated antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral, and anti-parasitic properties for a variety of these oils. Specific essential oils also contain vitamins and organic compounds that have been reported to promote homeostasis, which is the state of equilibrium the body attempts to maintain within a normal range.
How are essential oils manufactured?
The purest forms of essential oils are produced through steam distillation and are extremely concentrated. For example, it may take 16 pounds of fresh plant leaves to produce an ounce of an essential oil.
How do essential oils kill microbes?
It has been suggested that some oils produce an exothermic reaction that literally heats up and destroys bacteria, suffocates fungi, and melts the envelope of viruses. Some oils may destroy the biofilm surrounding the bacteria and then cause the bacteria to rupture. Unlike manufactured antibiotics, microbial resistance to essential oils does not appear to occur, but this has not been proven. In addition, if you were to use essential oils as an antibiotic, these oils also may kill friendly bacteria. Therefore, they may compromise your gut’s beneficial microbes.
What about potency of essential oils?
While there is research extolling the benefits of essential oils, there also is controversy. Here is a comparison test that I found demonstrating the potency of several essential oils compared to the effects of phenol, which is carbolic acid that is bacteriostatic at concentrations of 0.1–1% and bactericidal/fungicidal at 1–2%. A 5% solution of phenol will kill anthrax spores in 48 hours:
In this study, if the stated essential oil had a reference number of 1.0, it was equal to the killing power of phenol. Any number above 1.0 indicated the antiseptic power of the essential oil beyond that of phenol.
Phenol ………………1.0
Lavender ……………1.6
Lemon ………………2.2
Citral ………………..5.0
Clove ………………..8.0
Thyme …………….13.0
Oregano …………..21.0
There are many products on the market, but the formulations are not standardized making them difficult to evaluate. Currently, there is no government regulation in this marketplace. As further research is being conducted, essential oils could be proven to be an effective alternative to traditional antibiotics. Dosing and methods of administration would need to be determined.
Two well-known companies (Young Living and Doterra) claim to have high quality products, which may be true, but they actually are multilevel marketing companies. Many individuals, who pay to sign up as distributors for these companies, present themselves to the public as knowledgeable about essential oils. However, the majority of distributors are not trained in any of the medical fields to understand the medical implications of these oils. Distributors can only earn commissions if they sell products. Beware!
Essential oils have been used in some dentifrices and mouthwashes. OraWellness is a company that has created an essential oil blend that combines essential oils with a carrier oil that can be used with a toothbrush. You could find the ingredients of their Healthy Mouth Blend along with scientific references of their essential oils’ efficacy here.