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Natural Remedies for Toothache and Gum Disease

by Emily Kane ND, LAc


Toothaches and gum diseases are usually only related in that they both occur in
the mouth. They have, generally speaking, very different causes and therefore w
ill be discussed separately in this article.
The classic toothache is almost always caused by nerve pain due to an exposed ne
rve root. While it is true that receeding gums can expose nerve roots, causing "
tooth" pain, another scenario is that of a filling worn down or fallen out. Chew
ing gum regularly will make fillings come out more quickly; avoid it if possible
. Usually a toothache requires a trip to the dentist, however there a number of
treatments you can access relatively easily if you can't see the dentist right a
way.
First of all, avoid very hot or very cold foods or beverages, such as hot coffee
or ice cream. Also, avoid hard to bite foods such as raw carrots or apples. Gen
tle pressure onto the hurting tooth through the cheek may provide some relief. Y
ou could also try holding a warm wrung out towel against the cheek or jaw over t
he painful area, or a castor oil pack. The castor oil pack is a marvelous tool f
or pain relief anywhere. Simply apply a generous layer of castor oil to the area
that hurts (in the case of toothache apply the oil to the cheek; putting castor
oil in your mouth could cause stomach cramps or loose stools), cover with a lay
er of saran wrap then apply a hot towel or heating pad to the area. Be careful n
ot to burn the skin. Rest with the heat on for at least 20 minutes. The castor o
il will stimulate "drainage" of the blood congested with microbes, in the case o
f infection, or with pain producing elements, such as cytokines, in the case of
dental nerve irritation. Castor oil is available in most health-food stores.
One of the easiest and most effective natural pain killers, especially for tooth
ache, is clove oil. Many dentists still use clove oil in their offices where str
onger analgesics (pharmacologic agents for pain suppression), such as novocaine,
can be avoided. You can rub the clove oil directly onto the painful area inside
the mouth. Dilute it with olive oil if it is too strong straight. You can also
hold a whole peg of clove in your mouth at the site of the toothache. The numbin
g sensation will kick in quite rapidly, and will last up to 90 minutes. Although
not quite so effective as clove oil, garlic or myrrh oils can be locally applie
d for pain relief. Wintergreen oil works too and so does Aloe vera juice, especi
ally if the pain is accompanied by inflammation or obvious irritation. Another t
rick is to roll a small amount of beeswax onto crushed aspirin, or aconite powde
r if available, and stick this little ball of medicine onto the tooth that hurts
.
For those inclined towards Homeopathy, which works especially well for children,
these are a few classic toothache remedies: Belladonna 6X every 15 minutes unti
l you get to the dentist especially if the pain is accompanied by fever and/or b
right red cheeks. Plantago 6X is a good choice if the child feels better when ea
ting, or complains of reflexive pain from the tooth to the eyelids. Mag. Carb. 6
X may help if the child seems sensitive to the least bit of touch. Chamomile 6X
is the remedy of choice in cases that seem worse from heat.
The good news about toothache is that the tooth can usually be fixed.
Gum disease is more serious, generally more chronic, and not readily responsive
to "quick fixes." Gum disease is caused by infection, and prevention, as always,
is the best approach to this disease. Avoid over-eating, avoid excessive stress
which may cause nighttime teeth griding (bruxism) and avoid sugary foods and be
verages. Gum disease is very common, in fact it is listed as the most prevalent
infectious ailment in the United States after the common cold. The rate of infec
tion increases with age; it is a major cause of adult tooth loss. The first stag
e is gingivitis, or inflammation of the gums, caused by sticky deposits of bacte
ria, mucus and food particles. These sticky deposits are called "plaque" or may
still be refered to by a more outdated term: tartar. The plaque builds up around
the teeth and, at the gum line, irritates the gums causing bleeding and ultimat
ely infection. Gingivits is the medical term for gum infection; pyorrhea means b
leeding gums. The accumulation of plaque eventually causes the gums to swell and
become infected, widening the gaps between the gum and the tooth, like pockets,
which further enhances disease. These "pockets" gather food debris and can beco
me soft, red, shiny and will bleed easily. When gum diseases progresses ad begin
s to affect the jaw bone, it is called periodontal disease.
All of this can be prevented or improved with physical measures. Foremost is con
sistent, thoughtful tooth, gum and tongue brushing with a clean, soft brush. Bru
sh the teeth at a 45 degree angle to get under the gum line. Get a new toothbrus
h regularly (at least 4 times yearly) and make sure your toothpaste isn't irrita
ting. If you make lots of plaque, consider an alkalinizing toothpaste, such as o
ne containing baking soda. Bacteria prefer an acid environment. The FDA has rece
ntly approved the first toothpaste (made by Colgate) that can claim on the label
to "prevent gingivitis and plaque" but you probably don't need drugs in your to
othpaste to keep your gums healthy. If you can't get to your toothbrush soon aft
er eating, at least vigorously swish out your mouth with water. Gum disease is a
major cause of bad breath.
The next obvious preventive approaches to gum health are eating nutritious whole
foods (not processed), flossing daily and regular dental check-ups. Avoid refin
ed carbohydrates including alcohol and soda pop. Faulty dental fillings and ill-
fitting protheses can also accelerate gum disease by providing sites for plaque
accumulation. Sufficient saliva is also critical to clear the mouth of plaque an
d bacteria. Persons with dry mouth due to age or disease will need to stimulate
their salivary glands more vigorously by chewing carrots or sugar-free candies,
sipping fluids throughout the day and attempting to breathe through the nose onl
y.
Bacterial plaque is not the only cause of gum disease. A compromised "host" is a
lso a factor in any disease; that is, someone with a poorly functioning immune s
ystem due to substance abuse, poor nutrition or poor general hygiene. Smokers su
ffer from much more rapid gum deterioration than non-smokers -- in case you need
ed just one more reason to quit! Smoking promotes periodontal disease and ultima
tely tooth loss by doing free radical damage to the cells on the surface of the
inside of the mouth. Smoking also drastically reduces Vitman C stores.
Gum problems which progress from gingivitis to periodontal disease may be a sign
of a more systemic condition, such as diabetes mellitus, collagen diseases, lue
kemia or other diorders of white cell function, anemia, or vitamin deficiency. W
hite patches on the gums or elsewhere on the oral mucous membrane (inside the mo
uth) that can be scraped off are a sign of fungal infection (thrush) which must
be treated, principally by avoiding sugar, antibiotics and steroids (including i
nhalers) whenever possible. The reason you would want to avoid antibiotics, if p
ossible, in treating gum disease is that they destroy "good" bacteria, which hel
p to break down and digest food, in the mouth as well as along the whole length
of the gastro-intestinal tract.
Once you have gum disease, what can be done? Luckily, quite alot, including many
non-drug and non-surgical methods. For example, natural bioflavonoids, the mole
cules that give plants their colors, decrease wound healing time and are useful
in treating gum and periodontal disease. Blueberries, hawthorn berries and grape
s are all rich sources of flavonoids. Other nutrients which are essential to gum
health include CoEnzyme Q-10, Vitamin C and Folic acid. Co-Enzyme Q-10, or CoQ-
10 for short, is a tiny molecular catalyst in the middle of a series of chemical
events called the electron transport chain. These chemical reactions take place
in the walls of tiny organs called the mitochondria which, among other function
s, convert water into oxygen. CoQ-10 is well known for its role in preventing an
d treating heart disease, since it provides more oxygen to the tissues at a cell
ular level, thus reducing the requirements of the heart muscle to pump oxygenate
d blood around the body. CoQ-10 is essential for treating gum disease because it
provides more oxygen to the rapidly turning-over cells of the mucous membranes
in the mouth. Oxygen is deadly to anaerobic bacteria, which are the type most li
kely to damage the gums.
Vitamin C is also critical to gum health, and my favorite "anti-oxidant" for sev
eral reasons. First, a word on why, after expounding on the virtues of more oxyg
en, we now want to provide "anti" oxidant support? Anti-oxidants is a rather unf
ortunate term and these important nutrients would be more acurately described as
"anti-free radicals." Free radicals are chemial species that possess lone elect
rons, which is a very unstable chemical state. Lone electrons will do anything t
o be paired with another electron, including ripping an electron off a pefectly
stable structure, thus creating a domino effect of tissue destruction. This is w
hat is known as "free-radical damage," and is probably the underlying cause of a
ging. Vitamin C is a large, complex molecule that can "absorb" a free-radical an
d stop the chain of destruction. Vitamin C is inexpensive (manufacturers never c
heat in its production, unlike with Vitamin E), widely availabe in a variety of
forms and generally well tolerated. Some people with very sensitive stomachs nee
d to take a buffered form, rendered a neutral pH with the addition of minerals s
uch as calcium or magnesium.
Another crucial nutrient for gum health is folic acid, or folate. The mucous mem
brane of the gastro-intestinal tract, which starts in the mouth, has the highest
rate of cell turnover in the entire body. This is why many chemotherapy drugs,
which are geared to "attack" cancer cells that are rapidly dividing, are folic a
cid inhibitors. People taking chemotherapy drugs will often suffer terribly from
sores and blisters in their mouths, and all along the GI tract. Folic acid is e
ssential for normal cell proliferation and the constantly renewing mucous membra
ne over the gums would not stay healthy without this important B vitamin.
Please give these methods a try, and hopefully surgery and/or antibiotics can be
avoided. Now, truthfully, when was the last time you changed your toothbrush?
sidebar of dosages for basic gum health nutrients:
CoQ10, 100 mg daily to increase oxygenation of the blood, which ultimately trans
lates to more "fresh" blood in the mouth, which is highly vascularized.
Vitamin C, 4-9 grams daily to promote collagen healing and retard plaque growth.
Gums which bleed easily may be a sign of Vit C deficiency.
Folic acid, 400 mcg daily to enhance cellular regeneration. Many chemotherapy dr
ugs inhibit folic acid which is why cancer patients on chemo are often plagued w
ith sores on the inside of their mouths.
Calcium and Magnesium, 500-1,000 mg of each daily to help prevent bone loss.
Vitamin A, 20,000 IUs or the safer, water soluble form of Vit A, Beta-carotene,
10,000 IUs daily to heal mucous membranes in the mouth by providing anti-oxidant
s and bioflavonoids.
Vit E, another potent anti-oxidant, 400 IUs daily to promote skin integrity, inc
luding in the mouth. Vit E has a long standing and well-deserved reputation as t
he "anti-aging" vitamin. Vit E oil can be applied directly to the inflammed gum
for rapid healing.
Selenium, 200mcg daily, enhances the anti-oxidant effects of Vitamins E and C. I
t is also a catalyst in nearly 75% of all enzymatic reactions in the body, which
means without it we would't run very well, just like a car without spark plugs.

Bibliography
Murray M and Pizzorno J. Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine, Prima Publishing, Roc
klin, CA 1991
Carlson KJ, Eisenstat SA, Ziporyn T. The Harvard Guide To Women's Health. Harvar
d University Press Reference Library, Cambridge, MA 1996
Golan R. Optimal Wellness. Ballantine Books, New York, NY 1995
Dean C. Complementary Natural Prescriptions for Common Ailments. Keats Publishin
g, New Cannan, CT 1994
Balch JF and Balch PA. Prescription of Nutritional Healing. Avery Publishing Gro
up, Garden City Park, NY 1997

Emily Kane ND practices in Juneau, Alaska and can be reached at: (907)586-3655
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