What's the first thing that comes to your mind about the word "coconut"? Maybe palm trees, beaches, cocktails, chocolate or even raffia skirts and hula dancers. Would the word "dental hygiene" also come to mind spontaneously? Maybe not necessarily, but that could change after this article. :-)
The topic "dental care and sustainability" is a hot topic and the controversially discussed fluoride alone is said to have broken up whole families, so the rumour goes.
Fact is: Many toothpastes contain controversial to questionable ingredients; a result that was also confirmed by Öko-Test when they tested about 400 toothpastes in 2019. Among these ingredients are:
Triclosan - a bacterial killer that makes them more resistant to antibiotics and also harms the health of the oral flora. Triclosan is also contained in deodorants, cosmetics or dishwasher detergents and is prohibited in the USA.
Sodium lauryl sulfate (sodium lauryl sulfate) - a rather aggressive substance which irritates the mucous membranes. The foam that forms from it is said to help wash away plaque and food debris.
Polyethylene glycols and PEG - these chemical substances make the mucous membranes more permeable to foreign substances.
Aspartame (phenylalanine) - sweeteners like this and others are widely used in toothpastes. If the body processes these substances, it converts them into formaldehydes, which can be particularly unfavourable in metabolic diseases. Aspartame is also contained in food.
Microplastic - artificially thickens the toothpaste and is absorbed by body cells. The other effects of microplasty will not be discussed here.
Propylene glycol - a type of mineral oil that irritates eyes and mucous membranes and is toxic to some organs. This substance is processed with glasses, gloves and protective clothing; perhaps it is better not to put it in the mouth.
Preservatives, anti-inflammatory substances, abrasive particles, humectants, thickeners and aromas complete the list of ingredients of many toothpastes. According to Öko-Test, one manufacturer even used a solvent, which is not permitted by law.
All good things come in threes
So what do we do to say goodbye to the cocktail of moist, happy chemicals? This is where the coconut comes in - and a recipe for a homemade toothpaste we came across. The toothpaste has been tested by members of the bamboo love family and found to be very good; it is extremely inexpensive, requires virtually no effort and is produced as follows:
- ½ cup (120 ml) of coconut oil (organic and virgin) warm slightly
- 2 -4 teaspoons xylitol (depending on the desired sweetness of the toothpaste)
- 10-15 drops of organic peppermint essential oil, suitable for internal use. Under no circumstances should more drops be used, as essential oils are very strong in their effect and could otherwise cause irritation.
These three ingredients are simply mixed together and filled into a sterile container which can be closed well. No water should get into the toothpaste, as this could cause it to go mouldy. With a small spatula or spoon some toothpaste is then spread on the brush. It is not advisable to go directly into the container with the toothbrush, as this would allow bacteria to spread in the toothpaste.
If you are not so comfortable with the slight peeling effect of xylitol, you can heat the coconut oil higher: At about 90 degrees the xylitol then dissolves.
There are a few good reasons why coconut oil in particular is ideal as the basis for a homemade toothpaste: For example, there is the anti-inflammatory and antibacterial effect that coconut oil has and which is due to the lauric acid it contains. Lauric acid makes up almost half of the coconut oil and so it is not surprising that the oil scores with quite desirable properties for dental care.
The knowledge about the positive effects of coconut oil on the dental and oral flora has been gained in some studies on oil extraction. For example, the Manipal College of Dental Sciences in India concluded in 2014 that a daily (coconut oil) massage of ten minutes after brushing the teeth was sufficient to significantly reduce the number of caries bacteria. 40 test persons between 18 and 55 years of age applied this massage every day for three weeks. Divided into three groups, they massaged coconut, sesame and olive oil into the gums in circular movements. One comparison group used chlorhexidine gel, an antiseptic used in dentistry, for the massage. However, unlike coconut oil, the use of chlorhexidine can cause side effects, such as brownish discoloration of the tongue and teeth or taste disorders. It can also interfere with wound healing in open wounds.
The result of the study: in all four groups there was a significant reduction in plaque and gum complaints as well as in the bacterial species Streptococcus mutans and Lactobacillus. There were no major differences in the results between the respective groups. The study concluded: "These oils can serve as valuable preventative tools to maintain and improve oral health. However, it is recommended that further research be conducted in other populations with a larger sample and a longer follow-up period".
In his study "Oil extraction to maintain oral hygiene - A review", Vagish Kumar L. Shanbhag summarizes the findings of various studies to date and reports, among other things, on a study of 60 young people who practiced oil extraction for 30 days. They all suffered from gum inflammation and plaque. After the four weeks an improvement of both complaints by 50% was observed. The study also showed that coconut oil has a high saponification index, which means that the lauric acid in the oil combines with certain components of the saliva to produce a soap-like substance. This has a cleansing effect and would counteract the adhesion and accumulation of plaque, which would also prevent tooth decay.
The second ingredient in the homemade toothpaste, xylitol (birch sugar), is also healthy for the teeth. As early as the 1970s, scientists at the Finnish University of Turku discovered in the so-called Turku sugar studies that xylitol decimates caries. It also strengthens the gums and remineralises the teeth, in other words: damaged teeth recover. Incidentally, the human body also produces xylitol itself and uses this substance to metabolize carbohydrates. However, the caries germ Strepptococcus mutans cannot metabolize xylitol and so the bacterium starves.
Peppermint oil also has an antibacterial effect, soothes inflammation and provides fresh breath. It also has a cleansing and detoxifying effect.
These three simple ingredients therefore care for and protect the teeth in a completely natural way. Other recipes for DIY toothpastes often recommend baking soda or mineral soils such as bentonite or zeolite as additional ingredients. However, these active ingredients are too strong and not suitable for daily dental care. Both sodium bicarbonate and mineral earths act more like sandpaper; they can damage the teeth and attack the tooth enamel. They should therefore only be used once or twice a week, for example in a mouthwash.
When using salt, make sure that it dissolves well (otherwise the sandpaper effect) and that not too much of it is used.
Dental care from the region
Coconut oil is also popular and effective as a supplementary care product and is often used for oil extraction. The resulting antioxidants damage the cell walls of microorganisms and kill them. The above-mentioned study by Shanbhag goes into further numerous positive effects of oil extraction. However, there may still be some need for more research and the (more or less) regular visits to the dentist should not be neglected. Nor does oil extraction replace tooth brushing per se, because only mechanical cleaning of the toothbrush removes plaque properly.
For oil extraction, a teaspoon (initially; later a little more) is taken into the mouth and moved back and forth for 10 to 20 minutes. It should be pressed through the spaces between the teeth. In the beginning it may be unusual to keep oil in the mouth for such a long time. In the end, the oil is spat into a handkerchief; it is neither swallowed nor washed away in the sink. There are two reasons for this: If swallowed, the bacteria and toxins absorbed by the oil would enter the body. Disposing of it in the sink could, over time, clog the drain, as the oil cools down and becomes solid again due to the outside temperatures. After removing the oil, the teeth should be brushed as usual.
Patience is required for this additional care measure and because of its daily execution it may be felt to be time-consuming. But the 10 to 20 minutes must be: only in the course of this time the oil mixes with the saliva so that harmful microorganisms can be absorbed. Whether the procedure was successful or not is then literally obvious when spitting it out. It is also important to start the oil extraction immediately after getting up in the morning - even before the obligatory sip of water. After about a week, the first changes in the mouth should become noticeable, such as smoother, whiter teeth or healthy pink gums.
Some people may be conflicted about coconut oil, as it doesn't originate just around the corner. As a regional alternative, cold-pressed, organic oils such as sunflower oil, linseed oil, sesame oil or even olive oil are suitable. Especially sunflower oil and sesame oil are mild and neutral and therefore have a pleasant taste. Linseed oil tastes rather tart and should therefore be mixed 1:1 with sunflower oil; in return it has a particularly healing effect in the mouth and throat area. Olive oil should definitely be cold-pressed and virgin. For an extended
effect, essential oils can also be added, but these must then be approved as food. To 100 ml 3-5 drops are added, to 500 ml 12-15 drops.
All these oils can also be used for general dental care. They can be used to produce a herbal oil that can also serve as an alternative to conventional toothpaste. For this purpose, 100 ml vegetable oil is mixed with 30g-40g fresh herbs (e.g. parsley or sage) and blended with a blender to form a thin paste. The tooth oil will keep in the refrigerator for four to six weeks. Simply shake the oil briefly before use. If this sounds too much like herbal cooking to you, you can of course add xylitol to the dental oil.
So there are many ways to care for your teeth in a healthy and environmentally friendly way. But all these findings now may show one thing: Less is more, and maybe especially with toothpaste. And if you have developed an appetite for a cocktail or chocolate (or even herb butter), treat yourself to something nice today. But don't forget to brush your teeth! The best way is with a bamboo love toothbrush and your homemade toothpaste.
Vagish Kumar L. Shanbhag, Oil pulling for maintaining oral hygiene A review, J Tradit Complement Med. 2017 Jan; 7(1): 106109
smarticular.net - Zahnöl mit Heilkräutern selbermachen – für natürlich schöne und gesunde Zähne