Essential oils for oral and dental care, disinfection and healing of gums
Some of nature's most effective antiseptics
In addition to therapeutic herbs and other healing agents, many essential oils show a very beneficial effect upon teeth and gums as well, including tea tree, lemon, cypress, eucalyptus, cajuput, lavender, camomile, and clove.
Suggestions re usage of essential oils
What type of essential oil to use best
Listing of some possibly helpful essential oils
Can essential oils be dangerous?
Are lavender and tea tree essential oils estrogenic?
Essential oils and homeopathics
Since essential oils aren't water-soluble, one may wish to mix them with alcohol, using c. 10 drops of essential oil in 50 ml of alcohol. If you like, add a few drops of the mix to a glass of water as part of your daily mouthwash routine.
Another suggestion is not to use essential oils straight but diluted with oil (such as olive oil, sesame oil, etc.), making sure to use organic cold-pressed oils for highest quality and minimal pesticide and other toxic pollution.
Personally I use essential oils straight and undiluted for maximum antiseptic effect by dabbing a drop or two directly on any area of concern.
Before buying any essential oils, enquire about/research their origin and method of production. The reason is that they could have been extracted from pesticide-laden plants, cut with powerful toxic chemicals etc. in which case it would seem wiser to abstain from their use (at least in the long term). If at all possible/available, I would make sure to only use organic therapeutic grade cold-pressed essential oils.
Generally, it is advised to never use strong-smelling essential oils (e.g. peppermint oil) topically on young children or infants close to the air passage and general lung area. Due to their greater sensitivity, they could react among other things with bronchial spasm and even apnea (respiratory arrest).
Additionally, some individuals may not tolerate any one particular essential oil. Before using an essential oil, make sure to inform yourself about potential effects and contra-indications (but be careful not to fall for mere pharmaceutical industry propaganda, illustrated in the next topic).
In a recent (2007) research study ("Prepubertal Gynecomastia Linked to Lavender and Tea Tree Oils") done by Derek V. Henley, Ph.D., Natasha Lipson, M.D., Kenneth S. Korach, Ph.D., and Clifford A. Bloch, M.D., and published in the February 1, 2007 edition of the New England Journal of Medicine, the scientists attempted to establish a link of causation between the use of lavender and tea tree essential oils and breast development in three prepubescent boys, concluding that lavender and tea tree oil act as xenoestrogens, i.e. exert an estrogenic effect in the human body (article published at http://content.nejm.org/cgi/content/full/356/5/479). This study was widely reported over the public news channels and the internet, and likely made many reconsider and reduce their use of these two popular natural oils.
The study features three young boys who had developed breasts (gynecomastia). The physicians in charge learned that each of them was using care products containing tea tree or lavender essential oils, and after stopping the topical application of these oils, the boy's breasts/chests returned to normal. The researchers proceeded to test these two essential oils in vitro on human tissue cells. According to the study report, it was found that the tea tree and lavender oils possessed weak estrogenic and antiandrogenic activities, and were thus the possible cause of the gynecomastia found in the three patients.
There are however major flaws in this study, as pointed out in the reply to "Prepubertal Gynecomastia Linked to Lavender and Tea Tree Oils" submitted by Kathi J. Kemper, M.D., M.P.H., of the Wake Forest University School of Medicine, Aviva J. Romm of Yale University School of Medicine and Paula Gardiner, M.D., M.P.H. of Harvard Medical School, published in the June 14, 2007 edition of the New England Journal of Medicine. The three physicians write among other things:
"The study by Henley et al. ... raises many questions. Product names were not provided. Did the authors contact manufacturers to report concerns or ask about constituents? The variability, adulteration, and contamination of herbal products have been widely reported, as have discrepancies between labels and contents. Plastic containers may contain phthalates, known endocrine disrupters. What was actually in the products cited in this report?
None of the hormonal testing showed abnormal results, except in Patient 2, who had elevated levels of testosterone (not estrogen). There was no report on ultrasound examination or needle biopsy, nor were subsequent weight changes reported. Might the patients' gynecomastia have reflected another pathophysiological process that resolved spontaneously?
Traditional use and clinical trials have not suggested estrogenic effects of tea tree or lavender oil, though estrogenic effects have been reported for other essential oils and plants. Are occupational exposures to lavender and tea tree associated with estrogenic symptoms? In vitro testing alone is not adequate grounds for indicting traditionally used products and may raise public fear."
With no ingredient list being provided, there are in fact more estrogen mimickers that could have been found in the essential oil products used on the boys, such as parabens, or the endocrine-disrupting bisphenol A (BPA) used in the manufacture of many bottles.
Even more damnning (and I quote from the original study paper) is the following. "For all experiments, the lavender oil and tea tree oil ... (both from Sigma Chemical) were diluted in dimethylsulfoxide before they were added to culture media."
In other words, the solvent dimethylsulfoxide, an estrogen mimicker, was added to the essential oils before testing them for possible estrogenic and antiandrogenic activity...
Interestingly, Dr. Bloch, one of the doctors conducting the study, is cited as being sponsored by major drug companies such as Eli Lilly, Genentech, Novo Nordisk, Pfizer, Tercica, and Serono, with however "No other potential conflict of interest relevant to this article [being] reported." Coincidence? There isn't much profit in poular natural products like high-quality lavender and tea tree oil for the pharmaceutical industry...
One can hardly help but wonder why an unsubstantiated study like this finds a widespread echo in the news media when the perfectly substantiated deaths and injuries attributable to the ingestion of approved prescription drugs go largely ignored?
Natural unadulterated tea tree essential oil apparently has been used for hundreds of years by the Australian aborigines and pure lavender oil likely for thousands of years including on infants, with no reported evidence of estrogen mimicry to my knowledge.
Do not use essential oils when taking homeopathic remedies since the former might cancel out ("antidote") the therapeutic effect of the latter.1
Antimicrobial & anti-inflammatory, tea tree oil can be a powerful dental pain killer and should help kill infective microorganisms (likely even those involved in tooth decay and gum disease). In fact, human clinical trials have been published and confirmed its antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral and antiprotozoal activity under controlled conditions showing (among other things) that tea tree oil effectively reduces bacterial load and yeast and fungal infections, as well as treats viral infections (incl. cold sores [herpes labialis]), and relieves the symptoms of gingivitis and those of denture stomatitis (inflammation of the mouth).
A suggested application recommends daily mouth rinses using 3 or 4 drops of tea tree oil in 3 ounces of water to stave off infection associated with receding gums. Personally I dab the oil straight onto dental problem areas (to be on the safest side, it's best to avoid swallowing [though personally I have repeatedly done it when "overdosing" since it makes you salivate, but I expressly recommend to rather follow the experts' advice]).
For those concerned about tea tree oil safety (and in this respect it bears repeating that most any herb as well as many natural foods also contain some natural toxins), there is what looks like an in-depth article on the subject at A review of the toxicity of Melaleuca alternifolia (tea tree) oil. Quote: "Anecdotal evidence from almost 80 years of use suggests that the topical use of the oil is relatively safe, and that adverse events are minor, self-limiting and occasional."
Caveat: do not use tea tree oil on cats and some other animals, however, since it can be highly toxic for them.2
According to the official Pharmacopoea Europaea, rosemary essential oil shows antimicrobial activity against numerous bacteria, yeasts and fungi and increases skin circulation. It can be used both topically (in a 6-10 percent) solution and internally 3–4 drops on sugar or in warm tea.
This is contrasted by the English Wikipedia which warns that Rosemary essential oil may be toxic if ingested., with no doses considered "safe" being indicated. Wikipedia also writes that it may have epileptogenic properties and is (rarely) linked with seizures in otherwise healthy individuals. Your call :-) Personally I currently use some drops every day during oil pulling and tooth brushing and apply it topically on teeth and gums over night. It has a wonderful smell of Wick Vaporub :-). Note: it may be wise to abstain when pregnant.
Oil of thyme (Thymus vulgaris)
Thyme essential oil contains up to 54% thymol, a compound with antimicrobial and antibacterial activity which constitutes the main active ingredient in Listerine and similar antiseptic mouthwashes.
Oil of lemon
Essential lemon oil's properties include being stimulating, calming, anti-infection, detoxifying, antiseptic, disinfectant, antifungal, astringent etc. Enhances gum tissue formation.
(Again, beware of conventional production which likely means the fruit has been treated with pesticides.)
The therapeutic properties of cypress oil are described as astringent, antiseptic, haemostatic, vasoconstrictor, etc. For bleeding gums.
Oil of eucalyptus
Medicinal properties reportedly include being anti-inflammatory, a decongestant, antiseptic, antibacterial, stimulating, etc. Suggestion: use to massage gums affected by periodontal disease.
Cajuput (Melaleuca leucadendra et al.) oil
Enhances tissue formation (with shrinking gums/pyorrhea)
Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia et al.) oil
Enhances blood circulation and tissue formation (and smells wonderful).
Described as antiseptic, antibiotic, antiphlogistic, analgesic, bactericidal, anti-inflammatory, anti-infectious, etc. Enhances tissue formation.
Oil of clove (extracted from Syzygium aromaticum)
Properties include: antibacterial, antimicrobial, antiseptic, antiviral, a natural fungicide, insecticide, stimulant etc. Acts as a powerful disinfectant and local anaesthetic. Compare clove oil for toothache for more information incl. safety considerations.
Also compare Amalgam mercury fillings cause periodontal (gum) disease (gingivitis, periodontitis), On psychological issues creating gum disease, Herbs for strengthening teeth and gums, Commercial herbal and similar products that may help teeth and/or gum problems as well as Personal experiences for many dramatic natural gum healing testimonials.
2 A good example of how different species react very differently to the same substance, and an important argument against animal experimentation.