In our office, we believe the best dentistry is the least dentistry; that prevention is preferable to treatment; and that when treatment is needed, biocompatibility is a must.
That’s because biological dentistry respects the complex relationships between oral health and whole body health. Conditions in the mouth can and do have whole body effects. So it’s important to choose techniques and materials wisely, as the situation demands, not simply reaching for the default just because it’s how things have “always” been done.
And that brings us to a new paper in Evidence-Based Dentistry, which reviewed the science on tea tree oil vs. chlorhexidine in the treatment of gum disease.
Chlorhexidine is a powerful antimicrobial rinse. Mainly, it’s used in treating gum disease, but dentists put it to other uses, as well, such as following oral surgery or to reduce the aerosolization of oral bacteria.
But chlorhexidine also has some side effects of concern – how it can stain teeth, for instance, and increase the resistance of pathogens to antimicrobial agents. In some people, it can trigger severe allergic reactions.
Research has also suggested that chlorhexidine may damage fibroblasts in the periodontal pockets. Fibroblasts help with the formation of connective tissue, such as the ligament that connects your teeth to the supporting jawbone. Damage them, and you may interfere with the post-treatment healing process.
There are alternatives, of course, such as essential oils, many of which are known to have good antimicrobial properties. Tea tree oil is one of them.
For the review, researchers sifted through eight massive databases of medical research to identify studies that compared tea tree oil to chlorhexidine for treating gum disease of any stage. To be included, the study outcomes had to include common measures of gum disease severity, such as plaque index, gingival index, and bleeding upon probing.
The research team’s analysis showed that when it came to reducing gingival inflammation – the first and most obvious sign of active gum disease – the tea tree oil was actually more effective than the chemical rinse.
What the oil didn’t do as well was control plaque – but that’s not something you necessarily need a rinse to do. Brushing and flossing can certainly do the job, especially when done with the right technique.
If you decide you want to add tea tree oil to your oral hygiene routine, it’s super important you DO NOT just apply the undiluted oil directly to your gums and DO NOT swallow it. (Tea tree oil can be harmful if ingested.)
Instead, opt for a toothpaste or mouthwash that includes it as an ingredient. (A simple Google search – or a search in DuckDuckGo or StartPage or Presearch, to name but a few more privacy-focused engines – will bring up plenty of products.) Or try one of these DIY options:
- Add 2-3 drops of tea tree oil to a glass of water and rinse your mouth with the water before spitting it out.
- Add 2-3 drops of tea tree oil to a tablespoon of coconut oil and swab that onto your gums – or use that blend for oil pulling.