THE BLOG
09/18/2012 04:57 pm ET | Updated Nov 18, 2012

Go Natural to Fight Tooth Decay and Halitosis

There is really no food that can combat bad breath, yet you can still find many articles that claim to know the secret herb or fruit that will keep halitosis at bay. People have claimed that herbs such as tarragon, rosemary and coriander can knock out bad breath, but in reality anything you eat can serve as fodder for the bacteria in your mouth. These bacteria, in turn, will release substances that have a pungent odor that causes bad breath. This is why it's best to reach for alcohol-free mouthwash to get rid of that foul smell in your mouth, rather than the herbs in your kitchen.

However, just because there's no food that can fight bad breath doesn't mean that natural extracts from plants won't be able to improve your dental health. Consider a study recently presented at the Society for General Microbiology's Autumn Conference at the University of Warwick, which found that coconut oil may be able to fight tooth decay.

Enzyme-modified foods may help prevent cavities

You might have heard about a study from a while back that found enzyme-modified milk was able to reduce the ability of Streptococcus mutans to bind to the teeth. What's so bad about S.mutans? It is the pesky bacterium that sticks to tooth enamel and causes tooth decay, and gum disease and tooth decay are becoming a serious health problem in the U.S. According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, 92 percent of American adults between the ages of 20 and 64 have had cavities in their permanent teeth, and many of these are going untreated. This is why researchers have been busy searching for ways to fight tooth decay.

Keeping the study about the enzyme-modified milk in mind, scientists from the Athlone Institute of Technology in Ireland decided to investigate if other natural products could be used to fight off S.mutans. The researchers took coconut oil in its natural state as well as a form that had been treated with enzymes, and tested these samples to see how they would hold up against strains of Streptococcus bacteria that are common in the mouth, such as S.mutans.

What they discovered was that the enzyme-modified coconut oil slowed the growth of the bacteria, suggesting that it may successfully fight cavities. Lead researcher Damien Brady, M.D., said:

"[Tooth decay] is a commonly overlooked health problem affecting 60-90 percent of children and the majority of adults in industrialized countries. Incorporating enzyme-modified coconut oil into dental hygiene products would be an attractive alternative to chemical additives, particularly as it works at relatively low concentrations. Also, with increasing antibiotic resistance, it is important that we turn our attention to new ways to combat microbial infection."

Chemical-free is the key

The key words in this quote are "alternative to chemical additives." Many oral care products contain harsh compounds and claim that these ingredients will cure your halitosis, when in reality they are totally unnecessary. For example, many mouthwashes contain sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), which is used in many hygiene products such as soaps and detergents to help them foam. As if that isn't enough reason to avoid toothpastes and mouthwashes that have SLS in them, studies have also shown that this substance may irritate the mouth.

The bad breath connection

So what does all of this have to do with bad breath? The answer is a lot. Tooth decay is not just a problem that involves the teeth, but it can also cause some serious oral odor. That's because if you're developing cavities, you have an excess of S.mutans and other bacteria in your mouth, which we know can cause halitosis. This is why it's important to find natural ways to combat both tooth decay and bad breath.

More research will need to be done before manufacturers start adding coconut oil to their dental health products. However, there are already alcohol- and SLS-free mouthwashes on the market that can meet your needs today. These products utilize natural ingredients like probiotics, which are the good forms of bacteria that can help fight off the bad types. Both alcohol and SLS can dry out the mouth and make bad breath worse, so read the labels of any products you buy to make sure they do not contain these ingredients.

For more by Dr. Harold Katz, click here.

For more on dental health, click here.