by Lena DeGloma
With all the excitement about the gut microbiome, there has been less focus on the oral microbiome and its connection to a variety of health issues. It is becoming more widely recognized that gut dysbiosis
(or an imbalance of the resident microbial communities in our gastrointestinal tract) can lead to myriad issues including immune dysregulation, skin problems, allergies, metabolic imbalances & weight gain, and so on. But what about oral dysbiosis? Dental and gum health (or lack thereof) is strongly associated with many aspects of our health including cardiovascular, glucose metabolism, reproductive, and respiratory health. During pregnancy, poor dental health and gum disease has been associated with premature labor & low birth weight babies, pre-labor rupture of membranes, and pre-eclampsia. Preterm labor and pre-labor rupture of membranes is often caused by vaginal dysbiosis and/or urogenital infections – often associated with oral dysbiosis and gum disease. Further, early childhood cavities are actually a chronic infectious disease that can be passed from parent to child (especially from mother to child via transmission of microbiota during pregnancy, birth, and early parenting).
So what can be done? One of the first steps in prevention of childhood cavities is balancing your own microbiota and supporting the microbiota in your baby or child. The bacterial balance (or imbalance) in your baby’s mouth will affect their likelihood of developing early childhood cavities (and influence a variety of other health-related issues). Certain strains of Streptococcus bacteria, especially S. mutans are a primary cause of tooth decay. Balancing parents and babies’ oral microflora can prevent proliferation of these bacteria and the resulting decay. While there are many aspects to preventing early childhood cavities, I’ll focus on a few tips for preventing oral dysbiosis in babies.
First, for parents who have dental issues and want to avoid passing them to children, it is essential to floss once per day after brushing and finish with an herbal mouth rinse to inhibit the growth of cariogenic (cavity-causing) bacteria.
You’ll find a great herbal toothpaste recipe below and you can make a simple mouth rinse with a base of rose water plus tinctures (alcohol or glycerine extracts) of echinacea, myrrh, licorice, and rosemary added. Try 1 teaspoon of each extract per ½ – 1 cup of rose water and swish a small amount in mouth after brushing for at least 30-60 seconds before spitting out (save the remainder in a small jar for the rest of the week). A great mouth rinse for children old enough to swish and spit is cranberry powder mixed with some plain water or rose water (phytochemicals in cranberries help prevent cariogenic bacteria from adhering to teeth and rosewater is an excellent gentle astringent for the gums – both are edible and safe for children).
Second, avoid antibiotic use during pregnancy, labor and in young babies unless absolutely necessary. A child’s microflora is established within the first two years of life and exposure to antibiotics can disrupt this process. Proactive strategies for the mom during pregnancy and breastfeeding as well as during the child’s first two years of life are critical to correct dysbiosis and set the child up for a healthy mouth and healthy immune system. If antibiotics must be used or if parents have signs of oral dysbiosis (cavities, bleeding gums, chronically enlarged tonsils, bad breath, GBS positive during pregnancy) rebalancing the microflora is recommended to prevent transmission to babies during or after birth. Babies who are born by cesarean are also prone to dysbiosis due to use of antibiotics during surgery and altered microflora caused by not passing through the vagina at birth. There is emerging evidence on the benefits of “seeding” the microbiome of a baby following cesarean using gauze inserted into the vagina before the surgery. Pregnant and postpartum moms can also take up to 100 billion CFUs of probiotics (focusing on both lactobacillus and bifidus strains) for a minimum of 3 months following a
disruption such as antibiotic use or cesarean surgery. Infants exposed to antibiotics during pregnancy or birth should ideally be breastfed to help normalize the flora, and also, consider supplementing with bifidus strains of probiotics (up to 5 billion CFUs per day) formulated for infants – the powder can be mixed with breastmilk. All infants should have their gums “brushed” twice per day with a clean damp washcloth wrapped over the parent’s finger and gently massaged around all surfaces of the gums. The washcloth can be dampened with warm chamomile or fennel tea – especially good for teething infants.
Here are a few other general recommendations for anyone experiencing signs of oral dysbiosis, gum inflammation or poor dental health:
- Avoid/minimize sugars in the diet (especially highly refined sugars)
- Stevia (the actual herb – green powder or dried green leaves – not some of the synthetic extracts on the market) not only tastes sweet but is anti-cariogenic (anti-cavity).
- Floss well once per day – this one is so important and too easily ignored!
- Eat lacto-fermented foods daily (and consider taking probiotics and/or gently swishing an opened up probiotic capsule mixed with a little water in the mouth)
- Eat a whole foods diet rich in minerals & vitamins (especially vitamin D3, vitamin K2, calcium and phosphorus)
- Receive regular dental cleanings with a holistic-oriented dentist
- Consider trying oil pulling with sesame or coconut oil
- Consider tongue scraping in the morning
- Reduce any nasal congestion in order to avoid mouth breathing which dries out the mouth and allows cariogenic and periodontogenic bacteria to flourish (consider neti-pot, decongestant herbs, and sleeping with warm-mist humidifier if mouth breathing is an issue).
Lena’s Herbal Toothpaste Recipes (for Kids & Adults)
These recipes are good basic adult and kid recipes for preventing cavities and normalizing oral bacteria (and a nice way to save money and avoid chemical detergents found in most commercial toothpaste – even the “natural” ones).
I eyeball the amounts, so here is an estimate of the general proportions:
~3/4 – 1 cup Calcium Carbonate (chalk)
~1/4 – 1/3 cup Sodium Bicarbonate (baking soda)
~1-5 tsp Glycyrrhiza glabra root powder (Licorice)
For adults add:
~1-2 tsp Commiphora myrrha resin powder (myrrh)
~1-2 tsp Camellia sinensis leaf powder (matcha/green tea)
~1 tsp Azadirachta indica leaf powder (neem)
For kids add:
~1-2 tsp Vaccinium macrocarpon powder (cranberry)
-(optional) extra licorice powder or natural green Stevia rebaudiana powder (stevia) for extra sweetness (and dental benefits)
-start with ~1/4 cup vegetable glycerine
-optionally (if you like your toothpaste to get foamy) add ~1-2 tsp pure castile soap (Dr. Bronner’s unscented works well)
-add essential oil blends (~70-100 drops total for adults or ~20-30 drops total for kids)
Adults essential oil blend can include:
-peppermint or spearmint
Kids essential oil blend can include:
Start by whisking all your powders together. Then in a separate container (a glass measuring cup works well) mix your liquids gently with a whisk (make your own essential oil blend based on your tastes and preferences with the suggestions from above). Then add the liquid to the powders and mix well — you can add additional vegetable glycerine if needed until it’s the pasty thickness that you want (or if it gets too thin just add a little extra chalk powder). Store it in a small jar and use a mini bamboo spatula to scoop it onto your toothbrush (just rinse the mini spatula and keep it in the cup along with your toothbrush). Or purchase refillable squeeze tubes for the toothpaste.
*Note: the matcha powder in the adult formula makes it a pretty green color, but the part that touches air does tend to oxidize to a greenish-brown – it can look a little icky, but it’s not bad. If that bothers you then it is a perfectly good formula without the matcha.
If you enjoyed what you read, come meet Lena in person! She will be teaching a community class at ArborVitae on Monday, April 18 at 7pm on Night Shift Workers: An Herbal Approach to Circadian Disruption & Sleep.
Lena DeGloma, MS, LMT, CD, CLC, CCCE, is the founder of Red Moon Wellness in Park Slope, Brooklyn, and is a clinical herbalist, licensed massage therapist, certified birth doula, certified lactation counselor and certified childbirth educator.