A powerful conventional germ fighter and mouthwash for occasional and emergency use
Healing Teeth Naturally (nom oblige) generally recommends only natural and holistic ways of treating and caring for teeth and gums. Here is one exception - a little allopathic wonder worker by the alluring (generic) name of chlorhexidine which basically creates a nearly germfree environment in your mouth - for a while...
What is Chlorhexidine?
Chlorhexidine is a powerful "broad-spectrum" chemical antiseptic effective against Gram-positive, Gram-negative, aerobic and anaerobic bacterial species, with greater activity on Gram-positive than on Gram-negative germs. It is commonly sold in 0.12% and 0.2% solutions as a mouth rinse.
Amazingly (and helpfully), the typical reason for shunning chemical preparations on your skin (or mucosa for that matter) - the fact that some of the concoction will penetrate into your blood stream and body where it has to be detoxified by your hard-working liver etc. - does not apply to chlorhexidine. While it adheres to teeth and oral mucosa for a long time, it does not penetrate into the body via the mucosal lining of your mouth. And about 100% of it is being excreted without being metabolised. So if you'd like to occasionally treat yourself to a mouth free of any odours or most bacteria, have at chlorhexidine, the amazing bacteria killer...
Mode of action
Chlorhexidine works by destroying the cell membrane of bacteria. While some argue that simultaneously all the good (beneficial) bacteria are clubbed to death, it can be safely said that when there are somewhat serious issues already present in the mouth, there has been no proper balance of bacteria in the first place - and using chlorhexidine helps the mouth off to a fresh start.
Dentists will use chlorhexidine for a number of applications (using concentrations of 0.03 to 2%) particularly during dental surgery to create a nearly germ-free environment, as well as for periodontal treatment (gingivitis or periodontitis), halitosis and dry mouth. They may also recommend it for gum pocket and other oral inflammation.
While sellers and conventional sources recommend it as a regular treatment (they would, wouldn't they) for instance for gingivitis and to reduce plaque, Healing Teeth Naturally suggests to use any chlorhexidine oral rinse or gel strictly on an occasional basis, such as when one feels a need to thoroughly clean out one's mouth "from the inside out" - and preferably at night (for regular purposes, xylitol rinses are highly recommended). When used at bedtime as a stand-alone treatment (after brushing and rinsing teeth just with water for instance), waking with a totally odourless mouth is virtually guaranteed. In case you typically have an issue with "morning breath" you are likely to be delighted when you find yourself without a trace of mouth odour in the morning.
Chlorhexidine can also be helpful for those who for various reasons can't clean their teeth properly (such as wearers of permanent braces) although again xylitol rinses seem more recommended.
Chlorhexidine rinses have also helped people get rid of painful gum infections more quickly as well as deal with toothache (see the following testimonial).
Chlorhexidine and (extreme) toothache: a testimonial
A man who had developed new tooth decay (under an old filling2) eventually got great pain in the root of this tooth. The dentist only offered a root canal3 or extraction4 but since he wanted to neither have his tooth killed (a root canal kills the tooth while leaving its "skeleton" standing) nor have it extracted, he successfully used salt water and other simple remedies until even that triggered pain. He then started to "bathe" the tooth in a chlorhexidine rinse daily a number of times (particularly before sleep) for several days in a row. The pain gradually subsided. (In the first round of such pain, he also took antibiotics for several days, and generally MSM in self-filled capsules.) Eventually, pain could only be elicited by applying direct pressure onto the tooth. Later pain episodes were occasionally triggered by great stress or after brushing his teeth with a manual rather than electric toothbrush (which seemed to have led to plaque buildup). He continues to consider chlorhexidine a "life-saver".5
Less severe toothache (if the cause is bacterial which it most often seems to be) should more quickly yield to chlorhexidine rinses. If the solution seems to initially create more pain, try warming it up to body temperature before use.
As a cation, chlorhexidine is susceptible to or neutralized by anions such as soaps and anionic detergents (e.g. sodium dodecyl sulfate and triclosan, compounds commonly found in conventional toothpaste and mouthwashes1 but also similar anionic substances found in "health food store" toothpaste.).
Chlorhexidine side effects
As with most things in life, and even more so with man-made chemicals, be aware that some people will have negative reactions to them. Pregnant/breastfeeding women as well as individuals with hypersensitivity issues may wish to abstain just to be on the safest possible side.
With regular use of chlorhexidine oral rinses (which as mentioned, Healing Teeth Naturally does not endorse) the following side effects have been observed:
Staining of teeth and other oral structures/appliances incl. the tongue (parts of it can turn nearly black for a while), changes in taste perception, increase in plaque/calculus formation, oral irritation, allergy-type symptoms or mouth sores, tingling/numbness in the oral cavity, slowed healing of oral wounds. All of these symptoms are typically fully reversible. In the beginning, there may be a bitter after-taste as well as a burning sensation in your mouth.
Also, according to one FDA document, the safety and effectiveness of [a major chlorhexidine product] has not been established in individuals under the age of 18.
Particulary when using chlorhexidine rinses at a higher concentration, do be careful to avoid contact with the eyes and other sensitive tissues adjacent to the mouth, extended contact can damage these susceptible tissues.
How to recognize chlorhexidine products: trade/brand names
Chlorhexidine can be found in many guises and is sold under a number of tradenames. In Germany for instance it is marketed under the brand names Chlorhexamed, Dynexan Proaktiv, Hexal-Lösung and Meridol. The Swiss will encounter it as Corsodyl, Dentohexin, DermaPlast, Hibidil Sterile Lösung, Hibiscrub, Hibitane Konzentrat and Lifo-Scrub. US-Americans will meet it in the garb of Peridex, Periochip, Perichlor and Periogard. Her majesty's subjects know it as Corsodyl or Chlorohex, Australians and New Zealanders as Savacol, and Indians as Clohex, Dejavu-MW, Suthol, and Sterimax.
Caveat: some chlorhexidine products contain 6-7 % ethanol to extend shelf life and (supposedly) efficacy. Since ethanol carries potential health risks, make sure the product of your choice is free of ethanol.
Shopping for chlorhexidine products at Amazon
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1 Not recommended by Healing Teeth Naturally, compare Toothpaste: hazardous to dental and bodily health?.
2 Developing new caries under an existing filling is a common occurrence, see Drilling and Filling - an unwise choice?.
3 See Root Canal Treatment for the risks associated with root canals.
4 See Tooth extraction risks.
5 The page Tooth root infection suggested remedies reports on a number of powerful ways people have successfully gotten rid of tooth root infections without surgery.