Do people still actually use conventional mouthwash? I guess so, the pharmacy shelves are stocked with new formulations and the old standbys like Listerine. Using conventional mouthwash is like douching with pine-sol – kind of harsh. Here’s why I never use conventional mouthwash.
When we think of bacteria in the mouth, we usually think of the bad, cavity forming bacteria.
However, there are lots of other bacteria that live in the mouth.
Interestingly, Listerine was named for the scientist, Joseph Lister, who, in 1865, was the first surgeon to formulate an antiseptic that was to be used in surgery, thereby saving countless lives.
He was inspired by Louis Pasteur’s Germ Theory that invisible germs caused disease.
In 1879, Dr. Joseph Lawrence created Listerine,
a unique antiseptic for use in surgeries and bathing wounds. (source)
While this is admirable and they are correct about that, some say that we have taken the Germ Theory a little too far and we are too sterile.
Find out about the Hygiene Hypothesis here.
The original Listerine has evolved to many different kinds of mouthwash on the market.
There are mouthwash formulations specifically for certain purposes. These are:
More pressing issues with conventional mouthwash have to do with the fact that most contain alcohol.
Alcohol can be irritating to the gum tissue, can interact with toothpaste and can actually cause tooth sensitivity.
Importantly, there is evidence that alcohol in mouthwash (some brands contain up to 26% alcohol) may be associated with the development of oral cancer.
For instance, this study found that of the 866 patients with oral cancer they studied, men had a 40% greater risk and women had a 60% greater risk of oral cancer when they frequently used mouthwash containing alcohol. (source)
But perhaps the most pressing issue with using conventional mouthwash is the fact that they really do kill germs effectively.
However, like an antibiotic, they also kill lots of the beneficial bacteria in the mouth!
It is clear that the gut microbiome (which certainly is related to the oral microbiome) is super important to human health. It is also clear the western diet and lifestyle has decimated the diversity of the gut microbiome, leading to the epidemic of autoimmune and chronic diseases in the current population.
The oral microbiome is the home for many species of bacteria and these may change during times of stress, infection and use of microbe killing products.
It’s more than just streptococcus mutans that may cause cavities.
Researchers have found that it is the total composition of the oral plaque that is most important – not just one pathogenic species. In this study conducted back in 2006, the researchers found that another species of bacteria, S. gordonii, was able to modulate S. mutans, thereby making it non-virulent.
More recently, this study concluded,
Bacterial community diversity was reduced in caries as compared to health, as many species appeared to occur at lower levels or be lost as caries advanced, including the Streptococcus mitis/Streptococcus pneumoniae/Streptococcus infantis/Streptococcus oralis group, the Neisseria flava/Neisseria mucosa/Neisseria pharyngis group, and Streptococcus sanguinis. This may have implications for bacterial community resilience and the restoration of oral health.
Dr. Lin explains that tens of thousands of bacteria live on the outer surface of the tooth – the enamel. In order for them to stick to the tooth, they build community structure called biofilms.
We normally think of biofilms as being something we need to break apart and demolish, but the oral biofilms are there for a reason.
Oral biofilms help to protect the teeth.
The mouth is in a constant state of flux. We eat, mix food with enzymes and saliva and the pH changes.
There is a constant exchange of minerals that go from the teeth to the saliva and back again. These are important minerals that form the teeth – calcium and phosphorus.
The bacteria share the minerals with us.
When they need calcium they take it from the teeth. The bad bacteria are fast metabolizers that pull calcium out of the teeth rapidly, especially when we eat refined carbohydrates that provide instant sugar and make the environment acidic.
These are the cavity promoters.
However, this is balanced by the good, (probiotic) slow metabolizing bacteria as they orchestrate the release of calcium from their own biofilms and from the saliva. These good bacteria feed on complex carbohydrates and fiber.
According to Dr. Lin, the bottom line is that it is not only the combination of bacteria and sugar – it is bacteria plus too much sugar that leaches calcium from the enamel too quickly.
It’s all about the diet which forces the bacteria to leach calcium from the teeth.
According to Dr. Lin, dental plaque is more than just a sticky film that harbors cavity causing bacteria.
…Plaque also helps to maintain our teeth. In order to acknowledge that, we now refer to it as dental biofilm. The mouth is an extremely difficult place to live, what with our chewing, digestion, speaking and breathing. To survive, microbes build little houses – biofilms – to protect themselves… To beat tooth decay, we need to appreciate this delicate ecology of the mouth. Simply removing plaque, while useful, does not address the root cause of oral disease. (p.88)
Accordingly to Dr. Lin, the bacterium, streptococcus mutans expanded exponentially around 10,00 years ago. What else happened 10,000 years ago? The agricultural revolution – which placed grains into the human diet.
The second shift in the oral microbiome took place during the Industrial Revolution, in the mid 1800’s. At this time processed foods like white sugar and white flour became accessible to the entire population.
These processed foods promote the growth of the rapid metabolizers like streptococcus mutans, which multiply at the expense of the slow metabolizers that balance the oral microbiome and promote oral diversity.
The oral microbiome influences the gut microbiome. The oral microbiome is the start of the gut micrbiome.
From the baby’s journey through the vaginal birth canal where it picks up the mother’s microbiome – to the first sip of breast milk – the baby receives the microbiome through the mouth, and that is where they first colonize.
The seeding of the gut microbiome comes from bacteria in the newborn’s mouth.
The mouth is the gateway.
Stop killing the good bacteria in the oral microbiome with conventional mouthwash – rather, support good oral health in the following way.
If you want to use a more natural product with essential oils, I love this product which can be diluted with water and used as a mouthwash or rubbed onto the gums. It helped me reduce a pocket!
Here again, you want to make sure you are doing some or all of the steps below along with an antimicrobial in the mouth.
Another fantastic way to cleanse the mouth is to practice oil pulling – see below.
Keeping your mouth, teeth and gums healthy will also keep your body healthy.
Read much more about the diet for fantastic dental health and many other fascinating facts! Where to get The Dental Diet by Dr Steven Lin.
Get even more cutting edge information about oral health at the Holistic Health Summit, March 12 – March 19 Free and online!