Natural Medicine for the Mouth: Xylitol, Antioxidants and Probiotics, oh my!
This is a very exciting time in dental research, as many natural medicines are showing promising clinical results for treating the two big oral diseases; tooth decay (cavities) and periodontal disease (gum disease/bone loss). Gum disease is the number one cause of tooth loss over a lifetime. Keeping our teeth into old age is especially important because all of the nutrient dense foods we eat, such as; vegetables, fruits, whole grains and proteins require lots of chewing, plus our absorption of these nutrients can decline with age so we need to eat even more of them to stay healthy and age well!
Xylitol has been a big hitter in natural medicine for quite some time, showing incredible antibacterial and antiviral properties. It is also commonly used in the dental setting to help reduce the rate of tooth decay by reducing the numbers the most common cavity causing bacteria, strep mutans, in the oral cavity. Xylitol is a sugar substitute, a sugar alcohol. It tricks these caustic bacteria into thinking that it is sugar and gets eaten by them. They have no way to process it, so it plugs them up, kills them in great numbers. If you struggle with tooth decay, exposure to xylitol three times per day has had the best results for a healthier mouth in studies. You can get xylitol in gum, mints and toothpaste at most grocery stores. We currently have samples of mints on the front desk at Sunnyside Collaborative Care for your enjoyment.
Probiotics are thought to work by a similar mechanism as xylitol. However, they reduce bacterial colonies by introducing colonies of healthy bacteria and competing with the strep mutans for space. They repopulate the normal flora of the mouth with healthy bacteria. This is also much how it works in the gut. It makes sense that it would be beneficial in the mouth, too, since this is the beginning of the digestive tract. Look for probiotic chewing gum or think about swishing the probiotic food or drinks you consume or holding them in the mouth for a few moments before you swallow them. Examples of probiotic foods and drinks are kefir, yogurt, kombucha, tempeh, sauerkraut, and miso.
Antioxidants have long been used to reverse the effects of oxidative damage on the cells of the body. A couple of lesser known antioxidants phloretin (a flavonoid) and ferulic acid (a phytochemical) are showing promise in healing the localized inflammation associated with periodontal (gum) disease, which can be a difficult thing to do. These antioxidants seems to have the benefits of reducing bacterial colonies and working to regulate inflammatory cells. So they help clear the infection and reduce the resulting inflammation. These effects have been reached by applying the antioxidants directly to the gum tissue topically and they are absorbed right where they are needed. Both of these antioxidants are found in apples and several other foods. There are beginning to be some oral care products on the market with this combination of ingredients. This is an exciting time in the natural treatment of oral diseases to be sure!