More and more people are adopting a “clean living” lifestyle these days, replacing chemical-based products with those consisting of more natural ingredients. There is a growing popularity of these natural products, such as essential oils, and it’s important to understand fact vs. fiction when it comes to your overall health.
The rundown on essential oils
What are essential oils?
Essential oils are derived from plants and extracted or distilled from their seeds, leaves, bark, stems, roots, or flowers. They are comparable to human cells and tissues in regards to their chemical structure; which makes it easy for the body to identify and accept them. Due to their small molecular makeup, they can be processed by the body very quickly and penetrate membranes and diffuse through the body and tissues with ease. Many can produce more than one therapeutic effect in contrast to synthetic chemicals that usually have only one action and many side effects.
What’s the history of essential oils?
Essential oils have been around far longer than current pharmaceutical technology but fell out of popularity due to the development of antibiotics and other medications. Centuries ago, the Egyptians used essential oils as medicines to treat many different ailments. There is also evidence that around 200 BC, the emperor of China used clove essential oil to improve his breath. This progressed into the 19th century when the use of essential oils in dentistry expanded into endodontics, periodontal therapy, temporary fillings, and other conditions.
What kind do I want?
Pure essential oils are distilled from the plant with no additives as opposed to adulterated oils with synthetic compounds added to improve their life, eliminate odors, etc. Since there are no specific standards for quality control of essential oils in the United States at this time, they can be brought to market and sold without government approval. This makes it difficult for consumers to verify the quality of their essential oils and adulterated oils may not achieve the desired effect. The FDA makes decisions about the regulation of essential oils on a case by case basis. To ensure you are buying an essential oil suitable for therapeutic purposes, consider the following:
- Where is the plant grown?
- What is the method of distillation?
- Are there are any statements about purity that verify no synthetic solvents or chemicals have been added?
How do I use them?
You can use essential oils in three ways:
- Topical Use: Applied directly to the skin undiluted or diluted with a carrier such as coconut oil.
- Internal Use: Placing drops of the oil under the tongue, in capsule form, or by adding to food or drink.
- Inhalation: Either through a diffuser, humidifier, vaporizer, or a combination. Also, placing a few drops in the palm of your hand, rub together, then cupping hands over the mouth and nose and inhale deeply.
Are they safe?
Essential oils have minimal or no negative side effects and can be used for a variety of health conditions. However, it’s always a good idea to check with your health care provider if you have any conditions that may contraindicate the use of essential oils.
Here are some tips to keep in mind:
- Keep oils away from your eyes and ears. If you experience irritation to your mucous membranes, flush the area with vegetable oil, NOT water, as essential oils are not water soluble.
- Always dilute essential oils when using on children under 12 years old.
Refer to the Title 21 Code in the Code of Federal Regulations for a list of essential oils generally regarded as safe (GRAS) by the FDA.
How are essential oils being used in oral health care?
Clove oil is probably the most popular oil in the dental field. It’s used in the treatment of dry sockets, tooth pain associated with pulpitis and hypersensitivity for many years.
Sweet basil, cinnamon bark, sweet fennel, peppermint, spearmint and a few others were studied to determine their antibacterial and antiplaque effects on the teeth. Cinnamon bark and sweet basil showed strong inhibitory effects against the bacteria. It was concluded that the use of essential oils in the prevention of cavities was supported.
For treatment of periodontal disease, mechanical instrumentation (going to the dentist) in combination with a seven-day rinse with an essential oil, showed a significant reduction of bacterial counts in the shallow and deep pockets of patients studied. This demonstrates that essential oils can be effective in the treatment of periodontal therapy.
Essential oils can also be very useful in reducing anxiety and improving mood by stimulating parasympathetic activity in the autonomic nervous system. This is the fight or flight response that can sometimes be triggered by going to the dentist. Certain essential oils activate and stimulate areas of the brain that control heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, memory, stress, and hormones. Lavender is widely recognized for its calming effects. In one study, lavender oil showed a significant reduction in anxiety scores for male and female patients who were exposed to the lavender oil for just 15 minutes prior to their appointment. Orange essential oil showed promising benefits regarding children ages 6-9. It was concluded that implementing diffusers in the reception or operatories of the dental practice may be beneficial for patients experiencing dental anxiety.
How do I know if they work?
While there are many studies available to support the use of essential oils in health-care, there is still a need for more knowledge, research, and training in the chemistry and safety. However, many studies have proven their effectiveness when used for their antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral properties. Since the oral environment is full of bacteria that cannot be eliminated by brushing and flossing alone, it is advantageous to consider the addition of essential oils to your dental routine.
In a study of five essential oils (tea tree, lavender, thyme, peppermint, and eugenol) against four common oral pathogens (Staphylococcus aureus, Enterococcus fecalis, Escherichia coli, and Candida albicans), tea tree, peppermint, and thyme exhibited substantial inhibitory effects and are considered effective as an intracanal antiseptic solution.
As an antifungal, tea tree oil (melaleuca) was found to be comparable to fluconazole during a 24 hour period against Candida albicans. But what’s interesting, is that at day seven, melaleuca continued to display antifungal action whereas fluconazole had lost its antifungal properties. Cinnamon oil was also shown to be effective against oral thrush in denture wearers who were being treated for this condition.
How else can I use essential oils for my dental health?
- Clean your toothbrush and eliminate bacteria present by using a daily soak in a mouth rinse containing essential oil.
- Oil Pulling (swishing oil for 15-20 minutes then expectorating) using coconut or sesame oil can have an antibacterial effect against bacteria in the mouth, thrush, halitosis, and plaque-induced gingivitis.
- Patients who are not inclined to floss daily may consider the addition of a mouth rinse containing essential oil to the water of an oral irrigator to reduce bacteria in the oral cavity.
Do essential oils have a place in healthcare treatment options?
While essential oils should not replace your normal dental care products, they can be considered an acceptable and effective addition to your oral healthcare routine due to their antiseptic and nontoxic properties. Your oral health affects your overall wellness, so if you are looking to improve your physical health in a more “clean-living” sort of way overall, beginning with your oral health is a great place to start.
References: Dental Academy of CE
The content of this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of qualified health providers with questions you may have regarding medical conditions.