Making Your Own Mouthwash

Making Your Own Mouthwash

The effects of a vegetarian diet on systemic diseases like cancer, diabetes, and heart diseases have been studied and have revealed predominantly less systemic diseases in those eating plant-based diets. However, there have only been a few studies on oral health, which I covered in my videos Plant-Based Diets: Oral Health and Plant-Based Diets: Dental Health.

What’s the latest? In a study of 100 vegetarians compared to a 100 non-vegetarians, the vegetarians had better periodontal conditions, showing less signs of inflammation like gum bleeding, less periodontal damage, and better dental home care, brushing and flossing 2.17 times a day compared to 2.02 times a day. The difference in home hygiene is not that large, though, so maybe it was something about their diet. However, vegetarians may have a healthier lifestyle overall beyond just avoiding meat. The researchers controlled for smoking, but other factors like obesity can adversely affect oral health, so there may be confounding factors. What we need is an interventional study, where researchers take people eating the standard Western diet, improve their diets, and see what happens. But no such study existed… until now.

With professional support of nutritionists, the participants of the study (highlighted in my video What’s the Best Mouthwash?) with existing periodontal disease changed their dietary patterns to so-called “wholesome nutrition,” a diet emphasizing veggies, fruits, whole grains, potatoes, beans, peas, lentils, and spices, with water as the preferred beverage. To make sure any changes they witnessed were due to the diet, researchers made subjects maintain their same oral hygiene before and after the dietary change. What did they find? They found that eating healthier appeared to lead to a significant reduction of probing pocket depth, gingival inflammation, and levels of inflammatory cytokines, which mediate the tissue destruction in periodontal disease. Therefore, the researchers conclude that wholesome nutrition may improve periodontal health.

Why might diet help? Plant-based diets have a number of nutritional benefits in terms of nutrient density, but it also may be about improving balance between free radicals and our antioxidant defense system. Traditionally, dietary advice for oral health was just about avoiding sugar, which feed the bad bacteria on our teeth. We now realize that some foods and beverages, like green tea, possess antimicrobial properties to combat the plaque producing bacteria directly.

If plaque is caused by bacteria, why not use antibiotics? Many such attempts have been made, however undesirable side-effects such as “antibiotic resistance, vomiting, diarrhea and teeth stains have precluded their use.” In a petri dish, green tea phytonutrients effectively inhibit the growth of these bacteria, but what about in our mouths? Researchers found that rinsing with green tea strongly inhibited the growth of the plaque bacteria on our teeth within minutes. Seven minutes after swishing with green tea, the number of harmful bacteria in the plaque scraped from people’s teeth was cut nearly in half.

If you swish sugar water in your mouth, within three minutes the pH on our teeth can drop into the cavity formation danger zone. But if 20 minutes before swishing with sugar water, you swished with some green tea, you wipe out so many plaque bacteria that the same sugar water hardly has any effect at all. The researchers conclude that using green tea as a mouthwash or adding it to toothpaste could be a cost effective cavity prevention measure, especially in developing countries.

In the “civilized world,” we have antiseptic mouthwashes with fancy chemicals like chlorhexidine, considered the gold standard anti-plaque agent. If only it didn’t cause genetic damage. DNA damage has been detected in individuals who rinsed their mouths with chlorhexidine-containing mouthwashes, and not just to cells in the mouth. 13 volunteers rinsed their mouths with the stuff for a few weeks, and there was an increase in DNA damage both in the cells lining their cheeks as well as in their peripheral blood cells, suggesting that chlorhexidine was absorbed into their bodies. It reduced plaque better than other antiseptic chemicals, but it’s doubtful whether chlorhexidine can still be considered the golden standard considering how toxic it is to human cells.

Are we left with having to decide between effectiveness and safety? How about a head to head test between chlorhexidine and green tea? Researchers found that green tea worked better than chlorhexidine at reducing plaque. Using green tea as a mouthwash may be cheaper, safer, and better. If, as a bonus, you want to sprinkle some amla powder (dried Indian gooseberry powder) into it, you may make it an even better plaque buster. Amla evidently shows an outstanding cavity-stopping potential not by killing off the bacteria like green tea, but by actually suppressing the bacteria’s plaque forming abilities.

I now keep a mason jar filled with cold-steeped green tea (Cold Steeping Green Tea) with a spoonful of amla in the fridge and swish and swallow a few times a day. For extra credit you can gargle a bit with it too (see my video Can Gargling Prevent the Common Cold?).

Green tea shouldn’t be the primary beverage of children, though, as the natural fluoride content may cause cosmetic spots on the teeth. For more check out my video Childhood Tea Drinking May Increase Fluorosis Risk.

Another reason we may want to avoid antibacterial mouthwashes is that they can kill off the good bacteria on our tongue that are instrumental in enhancing athletic performance with nitrate-containing vegetables (See Don’t Use Antiseptic Mouthwash). For more on this, check out my video from yesterday, Antibacterial Toothpaste: Harmful, Helpful, or Harmless?

Need a reminder what amla is? More on dried Indian gooseberry powder power in:

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, From Table to Able, and Food as Medicine.

Image Credit: Norio Nakayama / Flickr

  • Julie

    We’ve got good guys in our mouths, too. Having plenty of oral probiotic bacteria is essential for keeping the bad guys in check. Vegan and vegetarian diets loaded with fiber feed these beneficial microbes. I’m currently reading “Oral Probiotics: the Newest Way to Prevent Infection, Boost the Immune System and Fight Diseases” by Casey Adams, Ph.D. It’s amazing how beneficial bacteria are essential for a healthy immune system, resistant to autoimmune diseases, allergies and infections throughout the body.

  • guest

    This is what I’ve been doing since I saw Dr. Greger’s video on the topic: I buy a 1-oz bottle of green tea extract , add about half a teaspoon of dried amla powder, shake well, and leave it for a couple of weeks, shaking the bottle occasionally. Then when I brush my teeth, twice a day, I add a drop of the concoction to the toothpaste on the brush before brushing. I have no idea if this has any effect, but the two times I visited the dentist for cleaning since I’d started doing this, he didn’t find any cavities. (He was unhappy because I and my insurance company had been a big contributor to his luxury boat payment for a long time.) Another change I made after starting this was to refuse fluoride treatment because tea has fluoride.

  • guest

    Any herbs that harm DNA? You had done a video on avocado possibly causing DNA damage. How about herbs killing the good bacteria in our mouths? Are mouth counts as part of our GI tract.

  • Thea

    re: “I now keep a mason jar filled with cold-steeped green tea (Cold Steeping Green Tea) with a spoonful of amla in the fridge and swish and swallow a few times a day.”

    OK, rinse, yes. Swallow??? I don’t know about that. :-0 That amla is some powerfully icky stuff taste-wise. On the other hand, maybe the tea mellows it or my taste buds have changed. As mom would say, I should try it before I knock it.

    • Tom Goff

      Wouldn’t just drinking green tea – with or without amla – deliver the same effect?

      • Thea

        Tom: re: “…the same effect?” From what I gather from the post above, the green tea and the amla do different things. The green tea inhibits growth of bacteria in the plaque, where as amla inhibits the production of the plaque itself. I may not have understood the details correctly, but I’m pretty sure that Dr. Greger is saying that green tea and amla have two slightly different positive effects and that the two together would presumably be especially effective. I am blessed with especially thick plaque and a sweet tooth. I’m thinking I need all the help I can get.
        The first time I heard the videos on this topic, I just consoled myself with the idea that I was drinking green tea often enough that I really don’t need to worry about regimented swishing or the amla piece at all. In other words, I was thinking along the same lines as you – just drink the tea and don’t worry about it. But this nice blog post has me thinking over the last few months or so, and I realize there are some flaws (for various reasons that may not apply to other people) with my loose-y goosey “plan”. So, I’m thinking about maybe trying Dr. Greger’s more systematic approach of making sure I have some green tea-amla mouth swish around at all times. And then trying to follow a bit of a schedule to make sure I use it. I’m not sure how good I will be with such an approach, since I don’t do pills very well that sit out on the counter staring me in the face. Cold liquid hiding in a fridge may be very hard to remember and hard on my teeth to swish. But it seems like it would be worth a try. The big question is, to swallow or not to swallow? ;-)

        • Tom Goff

          OK. I put amla, ginger and beetroot powder in my cacao drink so I’m hoping that between that and the green tea., I’ve got the bases covered. As you’ve probably gathered from that statement, I don’t have a sweet tooth problem! Although the beetroot powder tastes sweet to me.
          As for the big question, what can I say except … naughty girl!

        • HaltheVegan

          Hi Thea, I’m wondering if you know of a “good” brand of powdered Amla that can be bought on-line. I can’t seem to find any locally where I live. Thanks.

          • Thea

            HaltheVegan: Yeah, I had the same problem re: trying to buy locally. I bought mine from Mountain Rose Herbs, I can’t say I have any insider info, but Mountain Rose has a good reputation of obtaining quality ingredients. And last I did the research (which is some time ago!), they had a good price. Especially since it is organic. Hope that helps.

          • HaltheVegan

            Thank you, Thea. I posted this question at several places today in hopes of getting an answer from someone, but I really trust your recommendations, so was hoping you would see my question :-) I’ll try Mountain Rose first. Thanks again.

  • vegank

    Thank you – I’ve been waiting for this !
    Whenever I was tempted to eat Chicken or meat while becoming accustomed to eating only plant based & no sugar, I noticed the inflammation, receding gum and the pain came back within the same day and lasted at least a week.
    When I consider such consequences it is easier to stay off animal based protein.
    After just over a year of switching over to the WFPB diet I have had no issues, as well as no calcium build up.
    (And this is coming from someone who required regular treatment only until a few years ago)

    Thanks to the NF Team also for the practical advice on this topic.

    • Jim Felder

      My dental hygenist now wonders why I come in every 6 months for a cleaning since there isn’t anything to clean off. If it weren’t for the fillings (from all those years of SAD eating) that need to be monitored, I probably would only go to the dentist every couple of years.

      • vegank

        I’ve heard that about raw foodies too , and they don’t use the conventional toothpaste either !
        I’ve been lucky in that I’ve never had a filling at all, but not so with my gum since the treatment is very expensive ! what I find interesting though is that prior to switching to the WFPB diet, the flare up (swelling etc)and the excruciating pain would return every few months even with regular trips to the dental hygienist, and my own meticulous cleaning routine. The WFPB diet (nearly 2 years now)seemed to have eliminated whatever that was aggravating things. I’m not claiming that it is a cure, and we should visit the hygienist, but anybody who has experienced that pain will know how relieving it is to not experience it regularly.

  • Alexandre

    what about toothpaste??? most brands use some carcinogenic compounds as well…thank you so much!!

  • Dori

    Even though this may be an ancient practice, I’ve just recently learned about oil pulling using coconut oil. How does this practice affect oral health?

  • HaltheVegan

    Does anyone know of a good brand of powdered Amla that can be bought on-line. I can’t seem to find any locally. Thanks.

    • 2tsaybow

      I have purchased Amla a couple of times through ebay and it’s been hit and miss. I have just purchased from Mountain Rose Herbs because it is a company that has a lot of good reviews. I’ll come back to this post and let you know what I think of their product when I get it next week.

  • grateful4godsgrace

    This is a tangent, but related regarding Chlorhexidine. Basically, I have used Chlorhexidine surgical scrub, in the shower, so that I don’t have to use deodorant (aluminum based deodorants give me a rash, and others don’t tame the BO). So what are good natural ways to kill skin bacteria that cause BO? I bleach all my shirts as well. Up until now, only surgical scrub takes care of it. And the Iodine based surgical scrubs don’t do as good of a job as Chlorhexidine.

  • Linda

    Dr. Greger, My husband started taking amla powder about 10 days ago. After about the 6th day, he started with a headache, a red face and pressure in his face. Then his face swelled and especially his nose. Could this be an amla allergy? Of course his physician is not familiar with amla.

    • george

      Linda: If I take 1 tsp of amla a day for a few consecutive days, I develop sinus headaches, the nighttime dry eye I get occasionally gets aggravated, and my throat begins to feel weird. These problems are worse during winter than in summer. According to ayurveda, amla is a cooling food and people highly sensitive to cold should avoid it. Now I take triphala, of which amla is one of the three ingredients, and at 1tsp a day I don’t have a problem with it. (Triphala is said to be thermally neutral.)

  • April

    Does anyone know if decaffeinated green tea has the health benefits of regular green tea? If so, do you recommend a specific brand?

  • Simone

    After 1 year of vegan diet, I realized that the plaque decreased a lot!