Natural Wonders for the Teeth and Gums

     We all need to eat.  But after eating, food residues can stick to the teeth or get lodged between the teeth, leading to tooth decay if some way isn't found to cleanse and disinfect the mouth, teeth and gums.
     And so, dental hygiene is one problem that mankind has been struggling with for thousands of years.  What's the best way to protect the teeth, gums and mouth from the ravages of decay and disease?  Centuries before the advent of the modern toothbrush, the ancient Greeks, Romans and Arabs came up with some pretty ingenious solutions. 


Predecessors to the Toothbrush

     How do we clean the teeth?  The simplest answer is with the finger.  Either the finger was wrapped with a cotton cloth, and then rubbed over the teeth to clean them, or the finger was dipped in some powdered substance with special properties to clean the teeth.  These tooth powders were the forerunners of our modern toothpaste. 
     Or, the branch of a tree whose fragrant essential oils have antiseptic and other therapeutic properties for the teeth and gums could be chewed.  The chewed end would then come to resemble a brush of sorts, whose loose, frayed fibers could be brushed over the teeth to clean them. 
     One tree native to Greece and much used by the ancient Greeks that fits these requirements rather nicely is the Laurel (Laurus nobilis), which the Greeks call Daphne.  Its essential oils are antiseptic, and also stimulate blood circulation to the gums, promoting their health and regeneration.  After chewing on the branch, or the leaves, your mouth is cleaned, and left with a fresh, clean scent.
     Sometimes fresh, fragrant green herbs were chewed after a meal to cleanse the teeth and mouth and freshen the breath.  These fresh herbs included those of Fennel, Parsley and Lovage.  Even today, fresh Parsley is often chewed to remove the odor of Garlic.  The seeds of these and other plants, such as the Cardamom, were also chewed to cleanse the mouth and freshen the breath. 


Tooth Powder Ingredients

     Tooth powders were the forerunners of modern toothpastes, and can be used in virtually the same way: dip a moistened toothbrush into the tooth powder and brush your teeth with it.  Many ingredients that have been used in tooth powders for hundreds of years are still used in toothpastes today. Some are herbs and spices, but others are minerals, resins, and other natural substances:
     Alum (Aluminum hydroxide) -  A good astringent for firming and toning up the gums, and stopping bleeding.
     Ashes -  Alkalinizes the mouth and has a mildly astringent effect.
     Baking Soda (Sodium hydroxide) -  Alkalinizes and disinfects; neutralizes offensive odors.
     Borax (Sodium borate) -  A mild detergent, disinfectant and sudsing agent.
     Chalk (Calcium carbonate) -  Very cleansing and mildly astringent.  The main ingredient in many tooth powders and pastes.
     Charcoal -  Cleanses and neutralizes toxins.
     Cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum) -  Mildly antiseptic, stimulating to the gums; imparts a sweet flavor. 
     Clay -  Neutralizes and draws out toxins; mildly astringent. 
     Cloves (Eugenia caryophyllata) -  Imparts a good flavor, freshens the breath, stimulates blood flow to the gums, deadens tooth pain.
     Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) -  Antiseptic, imparts a pleasing flavor, breath freshener.
     Laurel (Laurus nobilis) -  Improves flavor, stimulates gum circulation, breath freshener.
     Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) -  Sweetener, sudsing agent.
     Myrrh (Commiphora myrrha) -  Astringent, antiseptic, promotes healing.
     Oak Gall (Quercus spp.) -  A good astringent for toning up the gums.
     Peppermint (Mentha piperita) -  Flavoring agent, antiseptic; essential oil and menthol are also used. 
     Propolis -  A disinfectant resin collected from the bees.  Also promotes healing and stimulates blood circulation.
     Salt (Sodium chloride) -  Soothing, healing and disinfecting.
     Star Anise (Illicium verum) -  An antiseptic and flavoring agent; also stimulates blood flow to the gums.


Mastic Gum:  Oral Hygiene Miracle

     On the southern shore of the Greek island of Chios grows a little evergreen tree, more accurately a shrub, whose botanical name is Pistacia lentiscus.  From this tiny Greek island comes the world's supply of Mastic gum.  Incisions are made in the bark of the tree, which then bleeds forth the resin, which has a pale, yelowish white color amd a mild, slightly flowery scent somewhat like vanilla.
     This resin, called Mastic Gum or Gum Mastic, is an oral hygiene miracle.  It is an antimicrobial, antiseptic, antispasmodic, astringent and diuretic.  One or two pieces, or tears, of the resin are chewed after meals to clean the teeth, stimulate and heal the gums, eliminate undesirable bacteria, and freshen the breath.  Chewing Mastic gum also stimulates the flow of saliva, which not only further cleanses the mouth, but is also swallowed for its beneficial healing effect upon the stomach and digestion.  Mastic is also used as an ingredient in dentifrices, or tooth powders and pastes. 
     Mastic's antimicrobial properties are even effective against Helicobacter pylori, a bacteria involved in the formation of many cases of gastric and duodenal ulcers, according to a study published in the December 24, 1998 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.  These modern scientific findings fit in very well with Mastic's traditional medical uses in treating complaints of the middle and upper digestive tract: acid reflux, heartburn, nervous or sour stomach, stomachache, gastritis, indigestion and gastroduodenal ulcers.  As an ingredient in herbal medicines to treat stomach and digestive complaints, Mastic has the effect of strengthening the stomach with long term use. 
     Distilled from the resin of Mastic is a special kind of essence or turpentine called Terebinth de Chio in the old medical manuscripts.  It has the same antiseptic and antimicrobial properties as the gum, but is used more for lung and respiratory complaints, like colds, coughs, sneezes and lung congestion.  Terebinth de Chio is also a key ingredient in Galen's famous Theriac electuary. 
     Mastic gum also has many other non-medicinal uses.  It's an ingredient in many traditional paints, varnishes and adhesives.  As an ingredient in perfumes and incense, Mastic imparts a deliciously warm vanilla-like scent with floral overtones.  And Greek cuisine uses Mastic as a flavoring agent in breads and many other dishes, including their famous liqueur, Ouzo. 


Miswak:  Middle Eastern Toothbrush Tree

     It's amazing how many Arabs and Middle Easterners have magnificent, strong, pearly white teeth and beautiful smiles.  That's because they chew on the branches of Miswak (Salvadora persica), which has been called the Toothbrush Tree, after meals to cleanse their teeth and freshen their breath.  They always keep a branch handy in their pockets to chew on whenever the opportunity presents itself.
     Chewing on Miswak regularly strengthens the gums, prevents tooth decay, and eliminates toothaches.  Using Miswak can halt the further spread of tooth decay that has already set in.
     In scientific studies, Miswak extract proved comparable to other oral disinfectants and anti-plaque agents.  In another study, Miswak was shown to be more effective than tooth brushing for dental hygiene - that is, if it was used properly. 
     When chewed, Miswak has a fresh, spicy flavor, somewhat like a milder version of horseradish.  Chewing on Miswak regularly creates a good fragrance in the mouth and eliminates bad breath. 
     The United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) recommended the use of Miswak in its 1996 and 2000 international consensus reports on oral hygiene.  Scientific studies show that it has a broad spectrum effectiveness against many different types of bacteria commonly found in the mouth. 
     Miswak has other uses as well.  It has been used to help people overcome nicotine addiction and the smoking habit.  And the tenacious roots of the Miswak tree fix the soil, preventing soil erosion and desertification, or the spread of deserts. 


Natural Treatments and Remedies for Oral and Dental Problems

     To relieve the pain of toothache, the essential oil of Cloves (Eugenia caryophyllata) is very beneficial and effective.  Just swab the affected tooth with it, or chew on a piece of folded gauze that has been soaked in it.  Alternatively, you can bite on a whole Clove bud with the affected tooth; the dried buds contain 50% essential oil.
     Cold sores, also known as canker sores or herpes blisters, are another troublesome and annoying oral problem.  Try swabbing them with tincture of Propolis, or essential oil of Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis).
     Hoarseness can ruin the voice.  To remedy this condition, make a tea from Sage (Salvia officinalis) and sweeten it with honey and lemon.  Drink it freely, as needed.
     If the sore throat is more severe, try making a strong tea or infusion from equal parts of the following herbs: Camomile (Matricaria camomila), Agrimony (Agrimonia eupatoria), Sage (Salvia officinalis), and Plantain (Plantago lanceolata).  Gargle with the warm tea, rinsing your mouth out in the sink. 
     Gingivitis, or periodontal disease, with red, bleeding, inflamed gums, can be a major dental health problem, often requiring the attention of a dentist or periodontist.  Nevertheless, there's a lot we can do with natural means to improve the condition of our teeth and gums.  The following three treatments all bring good results:
     Pour some sea salt into the hollow of your left palm.  Then, pour in some extra virgin Olive Oil and mix the two together to make a paste.With your right index finger, rub this mixture into the gums.  It may sting a bit, and you may salivate a lot, but the gums will be stimulated and cleansed. 
     Swab the gums with tincture of Propolis, especially around the gumline, where most gum problems occur.  This will thoroughly cleanse and disinfect the gums, as well as stimulate the blood flow to them.  Then, swab the gums with the oil of Sea Buckthorn berries (Hippophae rhamnoides).  The oil is incredibly rich in vitamin E, beta carotene and carotenoids, and will help the gums grow and regenerate. 
     Make a powder from equal parts of Bayberry bark (Myrica cerifera) and Myrrh (Commiphora myrrha).  Rub this powder into the gums with your index finger.  If you want to make this mixture more aromatic, and more Greek, you may also add another equal part of powdered Laurel leaves (Laurus nobilis); it will also help to freshen the breath.  The Bayberry bark is an astringent that firms and tightens the gums, and cleanses them of superfluous phlegm or other morbid humors, and Myrrh is a vulnerary, which speeds up healing and tissue regeneration. 


A Holistic Perspective on Oral and Dental Hygiene

     Conventional dentists tend to see the teeth and mouth, and conditions affecting them, as existing in isolation from the rest of the body.  Holistic dentists see the teeth and mouth, and conditions affecting them, as being inseparable from the health of the organism as a whole.  Greek Medicine takes the holistic approach.
     Functionally and anatomically, the teeth and oral cavity are part of the digestive tract, and form its entrance, or upper end.  Functionally and by humoral sympathy, the mouth, teeth and gums have a close relationship with the stomach.  Humoral imbalances and aggravations in the stomach influence the balance of humoral residues in the oral salivary secretions, which can affect factors like acidity, pH balance, and hence the populations of bacteria that grow in the mouth, which can then affect plaque formation. 
     Chronic inflammatory, hyperacidic, Choleric imbalances in the stomach can also lead to similar inflammatory conditions in the mouth, like gingivitis and inflamed, bleeding gums.  Chronic Melancholic conditions like a sour or nervous stomach can lead to gum atrophy and accumulations of plaque and tartar. 
     So, if you want to have healthy teeth and gums, do your best to balance out your stomach and its functioning.  And the stomach and its functioning are ultimately dependent on the healthy functioning of the entire gastrointestinal tract. 
     One remarkable medicine that works on both the hygiene of the mouth and stomach is Mastic gum.  Always keep a supply of it handy, and chew it frequently.
     Beyond this, the health of the teeth is dependent on the health of the bones and osseous tissue, and that of the gums is dependent on the health of the connective tissue.  These tissues must be supplied with the nutrients they need, and also with the right humoral environment needed to metabolize them properly.



Internet Resources

     Those wanting more information on Mastic are referred to the following websites: and .  The research findings from the study published in the New England Journal of Medicine are from this last site.
     Those wanting more information on Miswak are referred to the following article:
     These sites and articles were my main information sources for the sections on Mastic and Miswak.