Natural Wisdom for a Healthy Smile

By Jimmy C. Wu

Originally published in Body Sense magazine, Spring/Summer 2007.

While there’s no getting around the American Dental Association’s recommendations to brush our teeth twice a day, floss regularly, and visit the dentist twice a year for the best oral health, there are some simple things we can add to that regimen to improve our chances for healthy teeth and gums.

-- For whiter, brighter teeth, mix a half teaspoon of hydrogen peroxide with one teaspoon of baking soda. Add a bit of water to make a paste. This mixture can help reduce tarter and stains. Use it only once a week since baking soda can remove enamel if used too often.
-- Find yourself out of toothpaste? Gently brush your teeth with a paste of salt and water. The gentle abrasive action polishes teeth squeaky-clean. Plus, salt has antibacterial properties that help keep gums healthy, too.
-- Try strawberries as a toothpaste substitute. No kidding. Strawberries have cleansing properties and can help remove coffee or tea stains from your teeth. Crush two or three strawberries and rub directly onto your teeth.

If you run out of mouthwash, try one of these solutions:

-- Boil a strong cup of mint tea (any type will work—peppermint, spearmint, etc.). Cool and gargle like you would with any mouth rinse.
-- Dissolve a teaspoon of salt into a cup of warm water (this is also a great remedy for scratchy throats). Gargle.
-- Heat one teaspoon of clove with one-fourth cup of water. Cool and gargle.
-- Eat crunchy raw vegetables (like carrots and celery) and chewy fruits (like apples) to cleanse the teeth and stimulate salivary flow (saliva helps neutralize acids and re-mineralizes teeth to make them more resistant to cavities). These foods can even help reduce plaque buildup and whiten teeth naturally.

Any food high in calcium will strengthen the bones and teeth. For example, cheese and milk help prevent and fight periodontal disease, which causes bone and tissue loss around the teeth. If you’re not getting enough calcium-rich foods, you might consider a supplement.

-- Oranges and kiwis—foods high in vitamin C—help prevent the collagen network in your gums from breaking down and prevent periodontal disease, which causes bacteria and receding gums.
-- Foods such as spinach and lettuce create a protective film on teeth that helps prevent stains.
-- Green tea contains catechins that kill cavity-causing bacteria in the mouth, as well as bacteria that causes bad breath.
-- Blending together water and diluted fruit juice keeps gums and teeth hydrated, stimulating salivary flow—your body’s greatest defense against bacteria that causes plaque and cavities.

-- The Japanese spice wasabi helps protect teeth. The isothiocyanates that make wasabi hot inhibit the growth of cavity-causing bacteria.
-- If you eat sticky, starchy foods, eat them at the point in your meal when saliva is at its peak.
-- Avoid food culprits. If you’re enjoying a food or drink that would stain a white shirt, odds are it can also stain your white teeth. Limit your intake of items such as red wine, coffee, dark tea, dark soft drinks, etc. And don’t forget the sugars that cause tooth decay—soft drinks contain nine to twelve teaspoons of sugar.