Brush Up Naturally
By Ellen Strum
Find out how herbal and natural ingredients can refresh your mouth-care routine
Walk down the mouth-care aisle, and you'll find several products that tout being natural or herbal. In fact, Americans spent $386,000,000 on natural oral hygiene products in 2002, up nearly 15 percent from 2001, according to Nutrition Business magazine. About nine percent of Americans choose natural oral hygiene products over the non-natural commercial ones.
According to Dr. Earl Mindell, a registered pharmacist, master herbalist, and author of The Herb Bible , this rise is due to more people reading product labels and becoming concerned that man-made ingredients could be harmful. "Since World War II, 60,000 chemicals have been added to the environment, and only 10 percent have been tested, so we don't know what effect many of them have on people," notes Dr. Mindell. He says many people are concerned about sodium fluoride—which is used in pesticides—being added to toothpaste.
Herbal and natural remedies are nothing new. Written records show that the Egyptians used essential oils as medicine in 1400 B.C. David Wolfe, author of Eating for Beauty , claims they usually have no side effects and are often more effective than chemicals; for example, the essential oils of mint, wintergreen, hemp, and eucalyptus have antibiotic properties, so they are great for cleaning the teeth and freshening the breath.
According to Gayle Engels, education coordinator at the American Botanical Council, herbs and natural ingredients often are chosen because they have been used traditionally, as well as for what is known about their chemical constituents and how they work. Richard Austin, who founded Kingfisher Natural Toothpaste in 1988, adds that people also seek out natural toothpastes because of what is left out, such as artificial sweeteners, coloring, preservatives, and fluoride.
Many herbs have not had clinical studies done on them in relation to oral hygiene, so they are not endorsed by the American Dental Association. As with all herbal supplements, which are not regulated by the Food & Drug Administration, consumers should be aware of possible side effects, such as interactions with medications, or allergic reactions; be sure to notify your dental hygienist or dentist, as well your other health care professionals, if you decide to use herbal products.