Mouthwashes: commercial, and healthier alternatives

Fresh sage leaves

By Cat, Jan 10, 2018 (Photo, right, by Cat)

Do you use commercial mouthwashes like Listerine, Scope, Biotine, Sensodyne, and others to keep bad breath at bay? If you do, you may be doing more harm than good. But you may ask, “These products contain chemicals to kill bacteria in the mouth, which is a good thing, right?”

Well, yes and no. Killing bad bacteria is a good thing, but these products kill ALL the bacteria in your mouth – both the bad and the good. The health of your mouth, teeth and gums, depends on the health of its natural microbiome.  And a healthy mouth affects the health of your entire body.

Why is a healthy microbiome in your mouth so important? What is a better alternative to commercial mouthwash?

The importance of a healthy microbiome in your mouth

Killing all the mouth bacteria – the good and the bad – leaves your mouth vulnerable to attack by bad bacteria and disease because the good bugs are no longer there to protect it. Plus it only resolves bad breath for a short time – an hour or more – before the bad bugs return.

I’ve written before about the differences between soap and detergents (see Soap Basics). The main difference is that soap preserves the microbiome (good bugs); detergents do not discriminate between good and bad bugs.

Similarly, the antimicrobial ingredients in mouthwash do not discriminate between good and bad bugs, which, in the long run, deprives the mouth of the healthful microbiome it needs to avoid decay and cavities, and does not solve the problem of “bad breath” for more than a few hours. Additionally, bad breath may be a result of issues in the sinuses and/or gut, neither of which are resolved with a mouthwash.

But the problem is deeper than that. According to Mercola (1), “Indiscriminate eradication of oral bacteria reduces your body’s ability to convert dietary nitrates from whole foods [such as leafy green vegetables] … to nitric oxide in your stomach.” Why is this important? Nitric oxide (NO) is essential for health; it:

  • is an important signaling molecule that helps regulate energy, metabolism and insulin levels, all of which are important in the development of pre-diabetes and Type 2 diabetes when out of balance;
  • reduces your risk of gastric ulcers; and
  • reduces risk of high blood pressure by dilating arteries, thus increasing oxygenation and blood flow.

Better alternatives

Sage Mouthwash

You can make a natural mouthwash from leaves of sage or a mix of sage an thyme. See Sage & Thyme Gargle, using just a pinch of salt and no vinegar (the original recipe is intended for sore throat). Sage and thyme are antimicrobial herbs that work against the bad bugs while supporting a healthy microbiome (the good bugs).

You might wonder how the herbs can distinguish bad from good microbes; they do this via cytokines: protein messengers from their cell walls. These proteins have a chemical intelligence that recognizes which bugs are friendly and which are not.

Oil-pulling, using coconut or sesame oil

This is an ancient Ayurvedic practice that strengthens teeth and gums and helps prevent tooth decay, bad breath and bleeding gums. You move about 1 – 2 teaspoons of coconut or sesame oil around your mouth in a particular fashion (not exactly the same as swishing or gargling). This movement incorporates both saliva and bacteria into the oil. You don’t want to swallow it, but rather eventually spit it into the garbage or outdoors, away from your plants. Do not spit it into the sink/toilet, because the coconut oil will solidify and could cause blockage in your pipes. (1,2)

See Wellness Mama (2) for more detailed instructions. Follow with a baking soda mouthwash (below), if desired (1).

Alkalize your mouth (raise its pH) with baking soda mouthwash

This practice discourages growth of bacteria that thrive in an acidic environment resulting from consumption of sweets, coffee and sodas.

Mix 1 teaspoon of baking soda in 6 ounces of filtered water; add a pinch of unrefined sea salt if you have a bacterial infection in your mouth or throat. You can also add up to 20 drops of essential peppermint oil* for flavor.* Swish a portion around your mouth, then gargle and spit it out; repeat until you have used up the mixture.

*Don’t add peppermint oil if you are using a homeopathic remedy, as mint is antidotal.


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