Toothaches, gingivitis, and other oral ailments can be a real pain... literally. Common herbs—and the essential oils derived from them—are surprisingly effective for treating some of our stickiest tooth and gum complaints.
Herbs for Dental Health
Calendula (Calendula officinalis) has antibacterial properties and reduces oral inflammation associated with gingivitis. Mouthwash made with calendula helps heal wounds and trauma to gums following tooth extractions.
Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) is helpful for treating infections in the mucous membranes and for reducing bacteria that cause everything from gingivitis to strep throat. When used as a mouthwash it can help treat periodontal disease and thrush.
Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) is a strongly scented shrub of the mint family. It has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. It promotes wound healing, so it may be helpful following oral surgery.
Myrrh (Commiphora myrrha) is resin from trees native to Northern Africa. It has pain-relieving and antimicrobial properties. It’s especially useful for treating gum disease, mouth ulcers, and sore throats, and is often found in natural mouthwashes.
Peppermint (Mentha piperita) is particularly helpful as a topical anesthetic for the treatment of toothache. Menthol—a volatile oil—and peppermint essential oil, both derived from the peppermint plant, have antibacterial properties. Peppermint adds a pleasant, refreshing taste to mouthwashes.
Tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia) is one of various species that share the name tea tree. A member of the myrtle family, tea tree is known for its antimicrobial activity and is especially powerful against drug-resistant fungal and yeast infections in the mouth. It’s also useful for treating gingivitis and mouth ulcers.
Xylitol is a low-calorie sweetener, equal in sweetness and volume to table sugar. Research supports using xylitol to prevent cavities, plaque, and tooth decay. Bacteria cannot utilize xylitol to grow; therefore, fewer decay-causing bacteria survive on the tooth’s surface over time, reducing plaque formation.
Tips and Precautions
A refreshing, minty mouthwash can be made by combining mineral water with one drop each of peppermint, tea tree, and myrrh essential oils. Use it twice daily and don’t swallow.
Natural remedies can go a long way toward providing relief for minor discomfort, but serious pain and infections should be treated by a dental health professional. Unless otherwise indicated, essential oils shouldn’t be swallowed.
Herbal Therapy & Supplements by Merrily A. Kuhn and David Winston ($46.95, Wolters Kluwer, 2008)
Natural Beauty edited by Rebecca Warren ($25.00, DK Publishing, 2015)