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Interested in natural ingredients to stave off cavities and keep your gums healthy? Here’s what you need to know.

Natural ingredients aren’t a replacement for brushing, flossing, and mouthwash. Whether you choose naturals or not, those three pillars of oral health care help protect against teeth and gum problems. But natural products can help further boost the health of your mouth, teeth, and gums.

Read the ingredients. If you’re choosing natural or herbal toothpastes and rinses, work with your dentist to choose products with ingredients that can help keep your mouth, teeth, and gums healthy.

Is Natural Healthier?

Natural oral care products typically are safe to use, says Wenyuan Shi, PhD, chair of oral biology at the University of California Los Angeles School of Dentistry.

We’re still learning which natural ingredients are the most effective to help prevent cavities and gum disease. One thing we do know is fluoride helps you avoid cavities. All toothpastes that have earned the American Dental Association (ADA) Seal of Acceptance have fluoride. “Fluoride is still the only FDA-approved compound which has anti-cavity function at this point,” says Shi.

Peroxide, Tea, and Oils

There are natural or herbal substances -- including common foods and beverages -- that can help clean teeth. Some may even prevent decay and help ward off gum disease. These include:

  • Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate)
  • Peroxide (must be carefully diluted as it can cause burns to gums at full strength)
  • Green tea
  • Eucalyptol, menthol, and tea tree oil
  • Xylitol gum or lozenges
  • Vitamin D

Baking soda can offset plaque acids, and peroxide has anti-bacterial activities, Shi says. On the downside, peroxide has to be mixed with water to weaken it -- using it at full strength might burn your gums.

One study suggests that rinsing with green tea extract may protect the teeth from erosion and abrasion in a similar action to fluoride mouth rinse. Another showed the extract might stop starchy foods, such as crackers or cake, from causing tooth decay. And a third found that people who regularly drink green tea have healthier gums than those who don’t.

Oils such as eucalyptol, menthol, and tea tree oil are natural antiseptics and help kill bacteria in the mouth. This helps prevent inflamed gums. You can find toothpaste and mouthwash with these ingredients.

Xylitol, an alcohol used in place of sugar, has the best repute among herbal products for limiting decay, says Shi. Xylitol gum and lozenges are both widely available, but they might not be very effective -- one study showed the lozenges cut cavities in adults by only 10%.

Studies show a link between gum disease and low levels of vitamin D, which is also thought to help the body kill bacteria. You can get vitamin D from eggs, tuna, salmon, and fortified orange juice, among other foods.

But talk to your doctor before adding vitamins to your routine.

Remember, your dentist can help point you to the oral care ingredients that are best for you.

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