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Natural Herbal Mouth Rinses

A growing number of consumers are embracing the philosophy that natural products are better for their health and the environment. As such, they are seeking products they perceive to be safer, healthier and without toxic chemical or synthetic ingredients.

Promoted as “alternatives” to the conventional over-the-counter (OTC) cosmetic and therapeutic oral rinses that most dentists recommend and many individuals use, natural herbal mouth rinses (oral rinses or mouthwashes) are made of natural, plant-based ingredients that emphasize body/mind (holistic) health and wellness.

Benefits of Natural Mouth Rinses

Unlike most commercial cosmetic and therapeutic oral rinses, natural mouth rinses typically do not contain:

  • Alcohol
  • Sugar
  • Artificial colors
  • Artificial sweeteners (such as saccharine)
  • Stannous fluoride, a processed form of fluoride that can stain teeth
  • Cetylpyridinium chloride (CPC), which also can cause staining
  • Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), a chemical that has been linked to various health problems such as premenstrual syndrome (PMS), menopausal symptoms, diminished male fertility and breast cancer
  • Harsh chemical preservatives and dyes

Almost all conventional mouth rinses contain alcohol and fluoride, which are toxic (even lethal) if swallowed in large amounts. This is not the case with natural herbal mouth rinses. Even if you don’t swallow mouth rinse, it comes into direct contact with your mouth’s mucous membranes and still can be absorbed directly into your bloodstream.

Most natural herbal oral rinses are deemed safe alternatives for pregnant women, people with dry mouth (xerostomia), diabetics and children two to 12 years of age. Check with your child’s dentist and pediatrician before selecting any type of oral rinse and be sure to supervise your child’s use. In case of overdose, get professional help immediately. If you suffer from allergies or sensitivity to certain commercial dyes or man-made chemicals, you also may find natural herbal rinses a milder, non-irritating alternative.

Natural products are gentle enough for daily use and provide a less abrasive alternative to more potent prescription formulations meant for short-term use. Herbal antimicrobial mouth rinses are considered effective complements to tooth brushing and flossing for patients with gingivitis, providing a clinically significant benefit in the reduction of dental plaque.

What Makes Natural Mouth Rinses Effective?

Instead of using artificial dyes, natural oral rinses use vegetable juices such as red cabbage, purple carrot, beet, tomato and annatto to add color. Natural mouth rinses are sweetened with vegetable glycerin, stevia or Xylitol, none of which foster bacteria growth. Stevia is a naturally sweet herb used by diabetics and others on carbohydrate-controlled diets. Xylitol, a natural sugar made from birch trees, has been clinically shown to prevent tooth decay and gum disease. It has also been shown to help increase mineral absorption in tooth enamel, thus increasing its strength. Essential oils, such as anise, cinnamon, clove, eucalyptus, fennel, lavender, rosemary and spearmint are used to flavor natural oral rinses, freshen breath and reduce bacteria in the mouth.

Other popular ingredients found in natural oral rinses, as well as their beneficial properties, are the following:

  • Aloe vera has a soothing and anti-inflammatory effect.
  • Calendula (Calendula officinalis) has soothing, anti-inflammatory properties that help heal irritated, tender gums. It also has a mild antiseptic action.
  • Echinacea (Echinacea spp.), an immune-stimulating herb, helps combat infection; it is anti-inflammatory and antiviral.
  • Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) has anti-inflammatory, antiviral and antibiotic properties; it’s good for healing and preventing gum problems.
  • Grapefruit seed extract, made from the seeds and pulp of grapefruit, has antiseptic and antibacterial properties to fight infection.
  • Horsetail is rich in silica, vitamin E, selenium and other minerals. When used as a mouth rinse, it can help in coagulation, decrease bleeding and heal oral infections.
  • Myrrh (Commiphora molmol) has antimicrobial and astringent properties that help to tighten the gums. It is considered one of the best herbs for healing bleeding gums and mouth ulcers, and helps fight the bacteria that cause tooth decay and gum disease.
  • Neem (Azadirachta indica), long considered a top antibacterial herb in Ayurvedic healing, helps prevent plaque. Ayurveda, a form of traditional medicine originating in India, is practiced in the western world, including the United States, as a form of alternative or complementary medicine.
  • Oregon grape root (Mahonia spp.), possessing a high concentration of antimicrobial compounds and astringent properties, is excellent for helping to prevent and heal gum problems.
  • Peppermint (Mentha piperita) provides a pleasant, freshening flavor and sensation.
  • Sage (Salvia officinalis) has strong astringent properties, making it a favorite herb for tightening the gums and soothing a sore mouth.
  • Tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia), a potent antimicrobial essential oil, fights the bacteria that cause tooth decay and gum disease. It is often used in combination with other natural herbs, such as rosemary, chamomile, echinacea, aloe and fresh mint.
  • Vitamin K strengthens teeth.
  • White oak bark (Quercus alba), a strong astringent, is helpful for healing swollen, tender and bleeding gums and mucous membranes, and has a clotting and antiseptic effect.

It is important to note that many claims about the benefits and harmful effects of herbal compounds contained in natural rinses require additional scientific investigation. More research is needed to validate those claims.

Natural Innovations

One innovation being explored in the natural oral care market is the use of probiotics, “friendly” or “good” bacteria that, when administered in proper amounts, offer a health benefit to the host.

According to manufacturer claims and preliminary clinical research, probiotic oral hygiene products containing nisin, a natural antimicrobial agent, have the potential of inhibiting plaque accumulation and are effective at reducing gingivitis and bad breath (halitosis).

Whereas conventional oral rinses typically follow a non-specific approach by reducing all bacteria in the mouth, probiotic oral rinses specifically target only the “bad” bacteria that can harm your oral health, thereby helping to maintain the delicate microbial balance nature has established to ensure health. However, there is limited evidence supporting the use of probiotics in this way. Additional scientific knowledge is needed about probiotics, including their safety and appropriate use.

Available Natural Mouth Rinses

There are many brands of natural oral rinses that vary from small private label brands available in limited distribution and markets to larger, more established brands sold nationally at mass-market venues. Most are not evaluated by the American Dental Association (ADA); they may contain ingredients harvested and/or produced in countries that are not subject to the environmental and regulatory (FDA) standards for manufacturing in the United States. Manufacturers voluntary submit their products for ADA acceptance consideration. While the FDA regulates oral care products, the requirements of the ADA’s seal of acceptance go beyond the FDA’s guidelines, and some manufacturers may not wish to undergo or incur the additional testing, corroboration and fee requirements of the ADA.

Some popular natural oral rinse brands include The Natural Dentist and Tom’s of Maine, both of which have earned the ADA seal of acceptance and been clinically proven to kill germs naturally, reduce gingivitis and bleeding gums and relieve irritated and swollen gums, as well as sore throat.

Other natural brands – not evaluated by the ADA – include Herbal Choice, Life Root Healing, Herbal Serenity, Nature’s Answer, Bioforce of America, Eco-Dent, Jason Natural Cosmetics, Desert Essence, Weleda, Kiss My Face, Biotene/Laclede, Nature’s Artisan and Lesko Care, LLC, to name only a few.

Some manufacturers of natural oral rinse products voluntarily follow special practices. Many natural oral rinses are vegetarian/vegan and have earned a cruelty-free product seal from the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). PETA-approved products adhere to socially responsible packaging and business practices (fair trade, third world projects, conscientious use and ingredient disposal, cooperative work environment), respect for endangered species, biodegradability/environmental friendliness and environmentally protective production methods.

Natural mouth rinses typically are available at drug stores, supermarkets, mass-market retailers, natural health and nutrition stores and online. While they can vary in price from under $2 to up to around $35, the average price is $6 for an eight fluid-ounce bottle (some come in recyclable plastic bottles).

Considerations for Using Natural Mouth Rinses

Since they contain no chemical preservatives, some natural oral rinses may have a shorter shelf life than conventional oral rinses and can lose their effectiveness if exposed to extremes in temperature or sunlight. For best results, check expiration dates and follow storage instructions on product labels.

As with any product, stop using a natural mouth rinse if you experience an increase in tooth sensitivity, an allergic reaction or any discomfort indicating that the product may not be appropriate for your body chemistry. Additionally, tell your dentist and other health professionals about any complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) practices you use. Keeping all members of your total health team informed of your full medical history and everything you do to manage your health will help ensure your coordinated and safe care.

Natural vs. Synthetic

Currently there is no standardized definition of what constitutes “natural,” leaving it wide open for interpretation and confusion. According the U.S. National Organics Program (NOP), a natural substance is derived from a plant, mineral or animal source without undergoing a synthetic process. Natural substances still can result from physical and biological processes, even when the resulting substance cannot be found in nature independent of these processes.

For example, yeast is a microorganism that can act as an agent for biological change in a substance. It is used to help the process of fermentation of plant extracts, such as grape juice. The fermentation process yields carbon dioxide and ethanol, which converts the grape juice into wine.

A synthetic substance is a compound that is made artificially through chemical reactions in which natural substances have been chemically modified through human action to yield substances that are chemically different from the pre-reaction substances.

It is strongly recommended that you consult with your dentist to determine the best type of oral rinse product for your oral heath requirements.

Make Your Own Mouth Rinse

You also can make your own herbal mouth rinses at home more economically and with simple ingredients. For instance, add a couple of drops of peppermint essential oil to a glass of water for a great breath-freshening alternative to an OTC cosmetic mouth rinse. Or, add three drops of tea tree essential oil – a potent antimicrobial that fights the bacteria that cause tooth decay and gum disease – to half a cup of tepid water and use instead of a commercial therapeutic oral rinse.