One of the keys to a healthy mouth is an oral care routine you can stick to twice a day. Regular brushing and flossing are necessary of course, but there is also an array of natural methods you may be hearing about – the effectiveness of which varies. From oil pulling as a detox mouthwash to baking soda for teeth whitening, here's the scoop on these natural remedies and how they measure up to most time-tested and dentist-approved oral hygiene practices.
Oil pulling is the practice of swishing certain oil-based solutions in your mouth for an extended period of time. Some claim that when the bacteria in your mouth build up, this swishing can draw these impurities out of the body. Still, others suggest it can also strengthen gums, whiten teeth and act as a detox mouthwash, but research doesn't necessarily back up these claims. In fact, the American Dental Association (ADA) doesn't recommend it as a supplement to regular oral hygiene.
Although oil pulling may work as well as an antimicrobial mouth rinse to cut bad breath and reduce plaque, as reported in this Live Science article, they're unreliable for a number of reasons. The ADA maintains that oil pulling is not a suitable replacement for standard oral care, and while there may not be many risks to swishing coconut oil around in your mouth, doing so in lieu of brushing or flossing can increase your risk of cavities and gum disease.
Brushing with baking soda is something of an old wives' tale about producing whiter teeth. But does it really work? Known best as a cooking ingredient and household cleaning product, baking soda is admittedly present in many toothpastes and whitening products. But while this substance is a mild abrasive that makes it effective against surface stains – the kind you get after a glass of red wine – prolonged use may even wear down and thin your enamel layer, according to this DoctorxDentist article.
In addition, using baking soda as a replacement for toothpaste means you miss out on the benefits of fluoride, which is best for strengthening teeth and preventing cavities. If you're looking for whiter teeth, pick up a whitening toothpaste that gets rid of surface stains and helps prevent new ones.
The health benefits of green tea are pretty well known, but it's unclear if it can also strengthen your teeth. A study published in the Journal of Periodontology found that men who regularly drank green tea did have better oral health than those who didn't. In fact, for every cup of green tea consumed per day, a decrease in all three indicators of gum disease (periodontal pocket depth, attachment loss of gum tissue and bleeding upon probing) occurred. Researchers caution, however, that more studies must be done to confirm these results. In the meantime, drink up! Green tea is safe, affordable and also has less caffeine than most sodas.
Tea Tree Oil
Tea tree oil is a popular natural antiseptic and is making its way into more and more personal care products. A 2013 study from the Journal of Indian Society of Periodontology showed that tea tree oil may be a suitable adjunct to conventional periodontal therapy for patients with chronic periodontitis because of its antimicrobial, antifungal, antiviral, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effect. However, Mayo Clinic advises against taking tea tree oil orally as it is toxic if accidentally swallowed and can cause serious symptoms.
Further research must be done before a strong, definitive conclusion can be made on most of these popular alternatives. Until then, keep your cabinet stocked with your favourite Colgate tools before trusting a practice that doesn't have the evidence (or the fluoride) to support it just yet.