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  • Dr. Whitney Mostafiz

Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) in Dentistry Series: Herbal Therapy

Integrative healthcare seems to be enjoying a resurgence these days. Since many of these concepts resonate with me I've decided to explore them a little more. You may not have known that herbal medicine was all the rage even in Western medicine until the discovery of Penicillin and many “cure-all” drugs. During WWII, the ability to ship herbs across the world was cut off, and as synthetics were on the rise, herbology started to lose popularity. But then everything comes full circle! So now natural remedies and personalized treatment modalities are pretty stylish.

As such, Ayervedic medicine is strongly grounded in herbal and plant-based remedies. Perhaps you may have heard of oil pulling recently? Last year it seemed like everyone in the dental community was humming about it, and it actually is an Ayurvedic practice. In case you weren’t in the “know”, oil pulling consists of swishing oil in your mouth for up to 20 minutes. Most commonly recommended oils are sesame seed, sunflower, coconut, or olive oil (yummy). Don’t worry, you get to spit it out afterwards. This treatment is supposed to naturally treat periodontal disease and bad breath. Some people even say it helps whiten teeth. Speaking of teeth whitening, don’t forget to check out some charcoal toothpaste if you want to go au natural! It’s a real thing, at least in Hong Kong last year. Okay, I digress… Please keep in mind oil pulling is not a replacement for brushing and flossing, but can be added into your oral health regimen.

Oil pulling

Many Ayurvedic techniques may combine several herbs, while the westernized version of herbal medicine is usually restricted to one herb in a small dose. These treatments have been additionally shown to be great for allergies, sleep disorders, digestive problems, depression, and even cancer. The most common herbal products are garlic, ginseng, and Ginkgo biloba. A study in Canada looked at herbal products to address cardiovascular disease – these comprised garlic, cayenne pepper, and ginseng.

Anyway, more about teeth! In addition to oil pulling, other herbal products have been discussed in the use of treatment for periodontal disease. Dr. Sastravaha and colleagues at Mahidol University showed that the use herbal remedies to promote tissue healing following scaling and root planing (SRP) procedures for adult patients with periodontitis. SRP is an in-depth dental cleaning for those who have very deep dental pockets and plaque build-up. Their study looked at Centella asiatic and Punica granatum extracts. Patients treated with these extracts had significant reduction in pocket depth and attachment levels, and slight improvement in bleeding and plaque scores compared to baseline/pre-treatment. In case you’re confused, that is all good news.

Here's a selection of herbs and their benefits for your oral health, alphabetized for your enjoyment:

Aloe Vera

Soothing agent to treat mouth

ulcers, such as apthous ulcers

and lichen planus. Aloe vera juice

and gel can be utilized (but don't

if you're pregnant!).

Anise (Sweet Fennel)

Anti-inflammatory effect, soothe

gums and get rid of bad breath.


Treat TMD muscle tension and



Oil of cayanne can be directly

placed on an aching tooth for



Relaxant as well as can be used

as a mouthwash to soothe gums.


Use as a mouthwash to soothe

mouth tissue irritation associated

with oral cancer, as well as

canker sores.


Use for bad breath as well as

oil form to alleviate dental pain.


Treat dental abscesses and

is a blood purifier.


Treat dental abscesses and

boost immune system.


Protect teeth from dental decay.

Green Tea

Antioxidants may inhibit growth

of oral cancer cells. This effect

is seen if the mouth's mucous

lining is exposed to 4-6 cups of

green tea a day.


Antibacterial effect; don't give to babies and has lots of sugar!


Nutrient rich, promote healthy

gums and bone.


Promote strong immune system,

anti-inflammatory agent, inhibit

plaque growth and kills bacteria

associated with cavities.

Lysine Products

Protect you from cold sores

(herpes virus). Avoid foods with

arginine since it is used for the

virus to replicate. So enjoy brewers

yeast, dairy, wheat germ, and fish

but avoid nuts and chocolate (I'm



Powerful antioxidant, use as

ointment to heal wounds.


Drink tea to protect against

radiation as well as for relaxation


Tea Tree Oil

Treatment for cold sores, gum

inflammation, or use as a

mouthwash to soothe inflammation.


Prepare a mouthwash to find

relief from sores caused by oral

cancer, as well as canker sores or

cold sores.


Treat sore throat and reduce

cold sores if applied topically,

can also assist with taste


It is also important to mention the potential toxicity of herbal remedies or in combination with medications. What I mean by this is that certain herbs can decrease the effectiveness of a prescription drug or medication by decreasing its availability to your body. For this reason, it’s always important to mention all herbal remedies you may be taking (or plan to take) before being prescribed any drugs to check for a potential interaction. A very commonly noted interaction is St. John’s Wort, which decreases the effectiveness of many prescription medications. Similarly, anyone taking benzodiazepines or antipsychotic medications should not use kava products. Those who that are taking blood thinner medications (such as aspirin or warfarin) should not use Ginkgo biloba since this can increase your risk for bleeding.

Here's a chart adapted from Dr. Little from University of Minnesota, which mentions common herbs and safety concerns:

Though there are some benefits to alternative treatments as we can see, there are also some risks associated with these therapies. Be sure to do your own research and consult with your doctor and dentist.

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