Chlorhexidine is a powerful antimicrobial rinse that a periodontist or oral surgeon might prescribe to control infection. It’s effective stuff, to be sure. But it has its drawbacks.
For one it’s notorious for staining teeth and can also affect your sense of taste, although this effect is usually short-lived. It may increase the formation of calculus (tartar) above the gums and make harmful bacteria and other pathogens more resistant to antimicrobials.
There’s also evidence that chlorhexidine may damage fibroblasts in the space between your teeth and gums called the sulcus. These specialized cells help generate connective tissue, such as the ligament that joins your teeth to your jaws. Yet one of the goals of periodontal therapy is to improve this attachment. Damage the fibroblasts, and this goal may be harder to reach.
The good news is that there are natural alternatives that have proven at least as effective as chlorhexidine. Coconut oil is one of these. Tea tree oil is another, which was most recently shown through a systematic review published this past summer in Evidence-Based Dentistry.
Its authors began by searching 8 major medical research databases for relevant studies. They selected only those that directly compared tea tree oil to chlorhexidine and tracked patients’ gingival and plaque index scores, bleeding upon probing, and other common measures of gum disease.
While chlorhexidine was found to be better for controlling plaque, collectively, the studies showed that tea tree oil was “superior to chlorhexidine in reducing signs of gingival inflammation” [emphasis added]. Inflammation is a hallmark of active gum disease.
And plaque control can be accomplished by other means, most notably brushing and flossing or other interdental cleaning with proper technique.
If you’re ready to add tea tree oil to your home hygiene routine, it’s important to know that tea tree oil is NOT ingestible. You should never swallow it or apply it directly to your gums.
Instead, choose a toothpaste or rinse that contains tea tree oil. You’ll find plenty of brands online. You can also mix 2 or 3 drops of good quality tea tree oil into a glass of water and use that as a mouthwash, spitting out the water when you’re done.
If oil pulling is a regular part of your hygiene routine – and we hope that it is! – you can add 2 or 3 drops of good quality tea tree oil to your tablespoon of coconut oil and swish that around for 15 to 20 minutes before spitting it out.
Next time, we’ll take a look at some other essential oils and the roles they can play in helping you keep your smile healthy and looking its best.