We all know good oral hygiene is very important, and yet it is so often the last thing that we think of until just before we have to go to the Dentist. When we were children we always went to a Dentist in Clonakilty, so it was a day out, and for some unknown reason, although we were generally only allowed sugar once a week, we would always be taken for apple pie afterwards. Perhaps as a result of that pie, I don’t have any fear of visiting the Dentist – but it’s still an experience I try to limit as much as possible. So this month I decided to explore some of the new – and some of the the traditional – natural approaches to oral hygiene, including charcoal toothpaste, oil pulling and sweets and chewing gum that is actually good for your teeth!
One easy way to start taking care of your teeth better is to change your toothpaste to a natural toothpaste. What you are looking for is a toothpaste that does not contain chemicals like Fluoride, SLS, triclosan, chlorhexidine, or the synthetic sweetener saccharin. The theory is that too many harsh chemicals upset the delicate balance of beneficial bacteria in the mouth.
In Organico we are nearly all using a new ‘Blackwood’ charcoal-based toothpaste by Splat, which is incredibly popular because it makes your teeth feel so clean, and it takes away stains like magic! We’ve also found that even people who have sensitive teeth find it reduces their sensitivity. The company say: Charcoal, the ingredient that gives Blackwood its black colour, whitens, absorbs smells and removes stains to leave teeth feeling fresh and clean. Juniper extract promotes gum health. The toothpaste significantly and safely whitens teeth, fights plaque buildup and maintains long-lasting fresh breath. We say – try it for yourself, you’ll suddenly find you look forward to brushing your teeth!
Another popular natural approach to oral hygiene is called Oil Pulling. This is an Ayurvedic practice whereby you hold a small amount of oil (raw coconut oil and virgin sesame oil are both used) in your mouth for a period of five to 20 minutes and then spit it out; anecdotally people report an improvement in bad breath, a whitening effect on teeth, and research shows it can help to reduce harmful bacteria and plaque buildup. Plaque accumulates along the base of your teeth, becoming home to harmful bacteria. The bacteria can produce toxins that irritate your gums, causing inflammation and bleeding (otherwise known as gingivitis). Because oil is ‘sticky’, if you keep swishing it around your mouth for long enough it can help to pull bacteria out of those hard to reach places.
How to try oil pulling:
• First thing in the morning, before brushing your teeth or rinsing your mouth out, measure one tablespoon of virgin cold-pressed sesame, coconut, sunflower or olive oil (sesame and coconut are the most reputed).
• Swish this oil around in your mouth, letting it pass over your tongue, your gums and all your teeth. Try your best to move it ‘between’ each tooth, for a full 20 minutes. I usually do this while I have my shower and get dressed.
• The oil will turn white and frothy. Don’t gargle it or you’ll risk swallowing it. When the 20 minutes is up, spit it all out (not down the sink or the toilet though – your plumber won’t approve!)
• Brush your teeth as normal.
• Repeat daily for a minimum of 30 days
Many natural dental care products are now using small amounts of Xylitol, which is a naturally occurring sugar that can be found in fruits and vegetables, because (unlike most other sugars!) it has been shown to improve dental health. As far as I understand it, tooth decay happens when bacteria in the mouth consume the sugar we eat. The sugar gives bacteria in the mouth energy, which allows them to create a very acidic environment that starts to soften the enamel on our teeth and cause decay. Xylitol interrupts this cycle, as is does not break down like sugar and in turn does not feed bacteria. It also prevents bacteria from sticking to teeth. Interrupting this ‘acid attack’ (which can go on for half an hour after you eat something containing sugar – which would include foods containing natural sugars such as fruit and milk, as well as sweets) is very significant in protecting teeth from decay. In Organico we have toothpastes, mouthwashes, chewing gums, sweets, and mouthwashes for dry mouth, mostly from the company called Spry. Do read the precautions carefully though – Xylitol is not good for dogs and if humans consume large amounts it can act like a mild laxative.
Something I learned while researching this article was that drinking Green Tea can be beneficial to your oral health. Green tea contains complex compounds called ‘catechins’ that can fight inflammation and actually help to control bacterial infections. For example, one Japanese study found that men who drink green tea regularly have less occurrence of periodontal disease, as compared to infrequent tree drinkers. And another Japanese study showed that for both men and women, drinking one or more cups of tea per day was correlated with less tooth loss later in life. More research is needed here but drinking green tea once or twice a day certainly seems like a good idea if you want to improve your dental health.
Eating raw fruits and vegetables such as celery, carrots, apples and other low-acid, fibre rich foods is very helpful for your teeth. These water-rich fruits and veggies act by stimulating saliva production, which keeps oral bacteria in check. They also have a scrubbing effect, literally cleansing the surface of your teeth as you eat, working to brush the bacteria away. Chewing these foods will disturb and dislodge newly formed dental plaque, preventing it from ever forming.
And finally, something as simple as drinking water can make a huge difference to your oral health. Drinking water right after you eat is an inexpensive, readily available way to rinse your mouth, it removes leftover particles of food and stimulates saliva production. Skip the lemon though, as its acidic nature will help cause cavities. Sports drinks, ‘enriched’ with both acid and sugar, are even more dangerous. Can’t give up flavored water? Try adding some fresh mint leaves, which do much less damage.
And if you are interested in Zero Waste? Why not try a Bamboo toothbrush instead of a plastic one. And come and shop in the Zero Waste Zone we are opening next door to Organico – we are going to have all the basic organic foodstuffs in bulk containers, as well as cleaning products, personal care and lots more.
See you soon!