The use of tiny plastic bristles attached to a plastic handle for cleaning teeth is a relatively new practice. For thousands of years, people all over the world have been cleaning their teeth with “chewing sticks.”
The concept of the chewing sticks is not only that chewing a fibrous twig will scrape plaque off of teeth, but that the stick itself is from a plant with antimicrobial and antibacterial properties that would kill the germs before they infect the teeth.
Herbal Aids for Healthy Teeth
In many tribal and rural cultures all over the world, especially Africa and South America, the ends of twigs from small, fibrous bushes are shredded and used to scrub tooth surface and “floss” between teeth.
While many varieties of trees and bushes have been the source of chewing sticks historically, just a few have been scientifically studied for their dental efficacy.
Two common plants still used in developing countries for general tooth care are rhus vulgaris and lantana trifolia, both of which are being studied as a possible option for providing better health care to the impoverished, as they are much cheaper and readily available than the plastic toothbrushes used in more developed industrialized parts of the world.
Rhus vulgaris is commonly known by several nicknames, including Quommo and Ongafire. This small shrub produces edible berries and is found growing abundantly in Africa from Cameroon east to Ethiopia and south to Mozambique, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Lantana trifolia, commonly called a “shrub verbena” is a broadleaf evergreen commonly found in West Indies, Mexico, Central and South America.
Authors of a current research study published in Front Pharmacol in 2011 discovered that users of chewing sticks harvested from these plants claim that:
- Cleaning posterior teeth is easier with the stick than with the modern toothbrush because the head is smaller the device is easier to manipulate
- The ease in cleaning individual teeth reduces instance of bleeding gums
Functionally, the sticks work really well to scrape off plaque and debris. Combining that with their innate antimicrobial properties, researchers concluded that chewing sticks are a good alternative to modern toothbrushes.
With a renewed interest in alternative dental health, you can readily find dental chewing sticks for sale on the Internet and in some health food stores.
The idea that diet is the primary factor in tooth decay, and subsequently tooth health, is widely accepted amongst the herbalist community.
Therefore, the first thing that your herbalist will address with you when you turn to them for
help with your teeth, is food. They will also complete a comprehensive set of questions about everything from your mood to your environment to better understand your individual makeup and situation.
After you are thoroughly “examined,” and your diet is adjusted to increase the possibility for
remineralization and healing, an herbalist may direct you to several different herbs that can help give your body a tooth-building boost.
According to an article by Christopher Hobbs, LAc, AHG, an herbalist and botanist with over thirty years of experience in herbal treatments, the following herbs can help in the process of reversing pathology and strengthening teeth:
Anti-bacterial & Anti-inflammatory Resins
The following resins contain antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties in addition to their special characteristics listed below.
- Myrrh– warming, astringent
- Propolis (bee product) stimulates production of new tissue; antiviral. Propolis is especially useful for mouth sores and ulcers.
- Pine resin (pitch)—Can be chewed like gum when firm.
- Usnea– a common lichen, stronger than penicillin against streptococcus and staph.
- Bloodroot– an eastern woodlands plant that strongly inhibits plaque and decay-causing bacteria.
- Plantain– a common “weed” that can be used fresh for treatment of abscesses.
Astringents (anti-microbial, tightens tissues)
These will help strengthen your gums and firmly root the tooth.
- Krameria– contains 40% tannin (antiviral). Combine the powder with myrrh as a dentifrice for bleeding or spongy gums.
- Oak galls (oak apples) — contain up to 50% tannins. Use powder as a dentifrice.
- Tormentil & Sage– Use as a gargle for chronic gum inflammation.
A healthy immune system will ensure that your body is producing and distributing nutrients to the teeth and gums for proper healing and remineralization.
- Echinacea– Gargle or rinse with the diluted tincture to activate local immunity and induce healing.
- Baptisia—Antiseptic and anti-bacterial.
Most essential oil-bearing plants can stimulate blood-flow to the gums, which in turn helps drive nutrients into the teeth. The following oils are also antibacterial, so they are beneficial in removing surface bacteria:
- Peppermint oil
- Spearmint oil
- Fennel oil
- Cinnamon oil
- Sage oil
- Thyme oil
- Oregano oil
All of these oils can be purchased easily at health food stores, can be ordered online, or obtained through your herbalist. Just make sure that your oil is of the highest quality and purity for maximum results.