Last time, we looked at how tea tree oil can improve gum health, but it’s hardly the only essential oil with that power.
In fact, many oils have antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties that make them great options for improving or sustaining good oral health. These include clove, cinnamon, eucalyptus, myrrh, and a number of mint and citrus oils. As the authors of a 2019 review of the science put it,
Regular use of mouthwashes containing essential oils (EO) enables the reduction of plaque and weakens its re-formation – preventing germs from multiplying and preventing adhesion to the surface of the plate and tissues of the oral cavity. It is worth noting that many oils also have antifungal activity – extending the use of [essential] oils in addition to prophylaxis, also as an additional element of treatment of oral fungal infections caused by C. albicans or C. glabrata.
While oral fungal infections can be a thing on their own, Candida albicans has additional tricks up its sleeve. Research has shown that C. albicans can team up with oral pathogens such as S. mutans – a major player in the process of tooth decay – to create stronger, more resilient biofilms (plaque).
Even as essential oils and other botanicals have been used in traditional medicine for several millennia now, modern science continues to explore if and how they work, as well as how they stack up against chemical interventions such as chlorhexidine (CHX).
Consider, for instance, the 2018 study that compared eucalyptus oil with CHX. Participants were randomly assigned to a group, one of which rinsed twice a day with the oil and the other with CHX. Participants’ oral health was measured at the start and end of the study period. Disclosing agents were used to show plaque formation.
After two weeks, both groups showed better plaque control and healthier gums. In fact, wrote the authors, “There was no statistical[ly] significant difference” between the two rinses. Both worked well.
An effective alternative to chlorhexidine, eucalyptus oil, can be used as mouthwash for effective oral hygiene maintenance.
A 2019 study focused on two different oils, lemongrass and neem. In this case, they were applied to specimens of S. mutans, Lactobacillus (like S. mutans, also associated with decay), and C. albicans in a lab environment. Chlorhexidine was applied to samples, as well.
Lemongrass oil was found to be most effective against all three pathogens and “highly effective” against resistant strains of Candida, while neem and CHX were found to work best against S. mutans.
Results from this study have shown that herbal oils were more effective in controlling the oral microflora compared to commercially available mouthwash. Thus turning to nature can be as good as the latest advances.
A 2021 study also compared lemongrass and CHX, as well as tea tree oil. Ninety younger adults took part. Oral pH was measured before and after each participant rinsed with each mouthwash formulation. Since harmful bacteria both thrive in and perpetuate acidic conditions, oral pH can give a good, quick read on oral health.
All three mouthwashes were found to improve oral pH, but the results were far more impressive for the essential oil rinses. While CHX raised the mean pH level from 6.87 (slightly acidic) to 7.13 (basically neutral), lemongrass improved it more, from a mean level of 6.8 to a mean of 7.93 (alkaline). The jump was even bigger for tea tree oil: from 7.4 to 8.67.
And this, of course, is just a small sampling of the most recent science.
As with tea tree oil, you can buy ready-made rinses that feature these oils or you can just get the oils to make your own rinse at home or add to coconut oil for oil pulling. If you do opt to buy a rinse, we encourage you to read labels carefully and opt only for alcohol-free rinses. Those with alcohol can dry out the oral tissues, as well as aggressively disrupt the balance of your oral microbiome.
Next time, we’ll round out this series with a look at one more group of botanicals that can make a real different in your oral health: cannabinoids such as CBD.