Q: I have six children (mostly teenagers) and a husband. We seem to have endless problems with our teeth and gums-gumboils, caries, toothache, wisdom teeth-and now even TMJ symptoms have appeared. And all of these are associated with pain that is often very severe. Can you suggest anything, please? N.B. via email
A: First I'd like to explain TMJ syndrome. The TMJs are hinge joints of the jaw that can be felt by placing your fingers just in front of your ears and opening your mouth. If the joints are misaligned, this can cause headaches, fatigue, neck pain, facial ticks and disturbed sleep; sufferers typically will also hear or feel a slight click at these joints on yawning or closing the mouth. These symptoms can all be cleared with realignment by specialized osteopathic or chiropractic manipulation, so seek this out first before going in for more drastic and costly invasive dental solutions.
What follows is an overview of alternatives that may help your family's dental woes.
ClovesThese aromatic flower buds of an Indonesian tree (Syzygium aromaticum) produce clove oil, a natural remedy for toothache. Its active ingredient, eugenol, has powerful antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and anaesthetic properties that can alleviate tooth pain while fighting off infection.
The remedy: Place a whole clove in your mouth on or near the tooth that hurts, and bite down and grind it to release the oils. These will produce a bitter taste, and a tingling sensation on your tongue and gums. You may have an urge to spit it out-but don't! Wait for around four minutes before rinsing your mouth with water. The analgesic effect should last for two or three hours, while the bitterness will subside within 10 minutes.
If you use clove oil from a health shop, apply a few drops to a cotton ball and dab it directly onto where it hurts.
You can also make clove tea: just steep about 1 tsp of whole cloves in a cup of boiling water. A word of caution: drink too much of it and it will act like a blood thinner.
You can even make clove oil at home by following a step-by-step demonstration on the net (www.wikihow.com/Make-Clove-Oil).
Warm saltwater rinseRinsing your mouth with warm saltwater can help to relieve the pain and encourage a gumboil to burst. If that happens, be sure to wash away the pus thoroughly with more warm saltwater.
This simple remedy can be traced back to the use of brine to cure meat-and kill bacteria. Warm saltwater can help flush away bacterial waste products, so helping gums and teeth to heal.
AsafoetidaThis resin from the root of the Eurasian plant Ferula assa-foetida is used in homeopathy and botanical medicine as a digestive aid, and in food as a condiment and flavour enhancer. Like turmeric, it's a standard component of Indian cuisine.
The remedy: Add a pinch of powdered asafoetida to lemon juice, heat the solution until it's warm, then apply it with a cotton ball to the affected area. The spice can also be fried in clarified butter (ghee) and placed into a tooth cavity for instant pain relief.
GarlicToothache is frequently due to infection, resulting in an abscess. Allicin is the main active compound in garlic responsible for its antibacterial activity; it's released when garlic is chopped or crushed. In nature, allicin acts as a defence mechanism against microbial pathogens in the soil but, in too large an amount, allicin can also harm the plant's own tissues and enzymes, so its production is short-lived and confined to where microbial attack is likely.
The remedy: Allicin is available online in powder, liquid or capsule form. Alternatively, slice up a fresh clove of garlic and place it in or around a tooth abscess to stop any infective microbial activity. Pain relief is usually immediate.
Baking soda and hydrogen peroxideThese two agents are combined in several commercial toothpastes for supposed tooth-whitening purposes.
The remedy: Brushing the affected tooth with such products not only removes plaque buildup, but can also treat gingivitis or other dental problems. Many people make their own paste of the two chemicals, but I recommend baking soda alone because even 'household-grade' hydrogen peroxide-as low as 3 per cent-can be dangerous. Rinsing with or swallowing it can cause burning/foaming in the mouth, abdominal pain and vomiting, while inhaling vapours can irritate the nose, throat and respiratory tract. Higher concentrations, such as 10 per cent, can even be fatal.
Vanilla extractThis, like clove, contains eugenol, which has antiseptic and analgesic properties to fight off tooth decay and pain.
The remedy: Saturate a cotton bud or ball with three or four drops of vanilla extract and dab it onto the affected tooth, or use your finger to rub the extract onto the affected area-making sure to first wash your hands thoroughly. Repeat the process until the pain goes away.
BayberryThe root bark of this shrub (genus Myrica) can strengthen the gums, and the berries are ideal for treating aching wisdom teeth too. The natural antibacterial actions of Chinese bayberry leaf extract (M. rubra) have been well demonstrated in laboratory studies.
The remedy: Mix bayberry bark with vinegar to make a paste, and apply it to the affected tooth for pain relief. Use the paste several times a day or as needed.
Guava leavesExtracts of Psidium guajava leaves (available at many Turkish grocery stores) can inhibit gram-positive bacteria like Staphylococcus aureus, and have antimicrobial activity in general. Used traditionally for tooth decay and gingivitis, it can also heal mouth ulcers and ease toothache. You should feel the effects shortly after applying it to sensitive areas.
The remedy: Chew a couple of fresh guava leaves until you feel the juice working on the affected area. Alternatively, boil four or five leaves in water, allow the solution to cool to lukewarm before adding a pinch of salt, then rinse your mouth with it thoroughly.
Activated charcoalUSP activated charcoal powder has proved effective for reliably treating dental infections, toothaches, gum disease and dental abscesses.
The Toothache PlantOfficially known as Spilanthes acmella or Acmella oleracea, this plant has natural analgesic properties that have long been used in traditional medicine. Chewing a young bud results in a powerful tingling/numbing effect in the mouth.
The remedy: Make a tincture with one part herb (flowers, leaves, buds) to one part water and five parts ethanol. Allow it to stand for three weeks, shaking occasionally. Apply the tincture to the affected area. Alternatively, try Herb Pharm's liquid supplement called Dermal Health, containing S. acmella and other useful herbs (available from www.healthjunction.co.uk; 0843 886 6940).
Causes, signs and symptoms
Causes of tooth pain
- Abscessed tooth
- Infected gums (gingivitis)
- Tooth decay
- Damaged fillings
- Tooth damage (chipped or fractured teeth)
- Sinus infection
- Wisdom teeth
- Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) syndrome
- Swollen gums
- Sharp pain when tapping on tooth (say, with a pencil)
- Foul-tasting drainage (from an infected tooth)
- Sharp pain when pressure is applied to tooth
- Sensitivity to hot or cold foods
- Findings that require a dental professional's attention are:
- Swelling or tenderness on the floor of the mouth
- Cranial nerve abnormalities
1 Molecules, 2012; 17: 6953-81
2 The Gum Disease Conspiracy (Part 2); http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2001/07/25/dentist2.aspx
3 Felter HW. The Eclectic Materia Medica, Pharmacology and Therapeutics. Cincinnati, OH: John K Scudder, 1922: 38-9
5 J Sci Food Agric, 2013; DOI 10.1002/jsfa.6338 (wileyonlinelibrary.com)
6 Int J Microbiol, 2013; 2013: Article ID 746165, 7 pages
7 Fitoterapia, 2002; 73: 713-5
9 Adv Pharmacol Sci, 2013; 2013: Article ID 423750, 9 pages
Harald Gaier, one of the UK's leading experts on alternative medicine and a registered naturopath, osteopath, acupuncturist, homeopath and herbalist, practises at The Allergy and Nutrition Clinic, 22 Harley Street, London. Visit his website at www.drgaier.com
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Published in the February issue