My dentist REALLY likes essential oils.
August 30, 2017 5:57 AM   Subscribe

Yesterday my dentist told me that purple Listerine can help stop incipient cavities from progressing to the point they require filling. She said this was because of the high fluoride uptake (relative to other brands) and the essential oils. I believe the fluoride part... is the essential oil claim true or Woo?

Now, there are definitely some essential oils in it - methol, eucalyptol, and thymol - but I was under the impression that these are mostly there for breath-freshening purposes. I know they have some antiseptic properties, but I mean I also sort of doubt that they're killing anything the alcohol isn't killing.

FWIW, this dentist seems otherwise amazing, although there is some focus on essential oils and other non-traditional "medicine." For example, my hygienist always has a new blend of essential oils she wants me to try, and she often tries to get me to practice yogic breathing . (I have exactly zero dental anxiety, so I don't think they're only trotting out the lavender and breathing exercises for me.)
posted by schroedingersgirl to Health & Fitness (9 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
We go to the same dentist (I recognized these people immediately)! She told me this also but she phrased it more like, "There haven't been any conclusive studies on the essential oils in the purple listerine but theoretically they might help and it costs the same so why not." (I think we had previously talked about evidence-based medicine so she knew it was something I was interested in?)

I also got the essential oils and a head and neck massage, with a side of Vedic chants and some skincare tips from that dental hygienist (I've only seen her once, though, and last time I went I had a different hygienist who was more conventional though still very nice).
posted by mskyle at 6:17 AM on August 30, 2017 [5 favorites]

There seems to be some genuine evidence of beneficial effects on plaque and gingivitis.

It sounds as if more research is really needed, but it's not merely woo.
posted by Segundus at 7:06 AM on August 30, 2017 [5 favorites]

Holy HECK, head massage? This sounds about seventy hundred times nicer than seeing the hygienist is supposed to be?!

Anyway I am just here to say that clove oil is absolutely proven to be helpful with tooth pain, which isn't the thing you're looking for in a mouthwash, but is in the "essential oils that really do actually do stuff" category.
posted by greenish at 8:18 AM on August 30, 2017 [2 favorites]

"Clove oil contains the active ingredient eugenol, which is a natural anesthetic. It helps numb and reduce pain to ease a toothache. Eugenol also has natural anti-inflammatory properties.Feb 23, 2017" -- says google

If you've ever had clove gum or even tasted something like the Thieves essential oil you can easily corroborate clove oil as a numbing agent. I'm not sure if it's essential, ;) .

But many natural cures still work, ie willow bark for headaches, witch hazel for astringent. There are many books about natural cures and herbal remedies available.
posted by dreamling at 9:20 AM on August 30, 2017

I can't speak for other essential oils, but in the South Asian culture I was raised in, grandmothers would often tell you to bite down on whole cloves if you had a toothache. Given this, I used a tiny bit of clove essential oil on my toddler's gums when he was teething, and it had an almost immediate soothing effect - I'd imagine from the numbing properties of cloves.

As a scientist, I'm skeptical of most of the claims from the current crop of essential oil purveyors, but cannot completely ignore the beneficial effects of natural remedies.
posted by Everydayville at 11:17 AM on August 30, 2017

Thanks, all. Just to clarify, I'm not really looking for proof that clove oil or other natural remedies work. I'm specifically asking if the essential oils in this particular type of Listerine do anything beyond freshen my breath. :)

If anyone has links similar to those Segundus shared, awesome!
posted by schroedingersgirl at 11:22 AM on August 30, 2017

This is only an abstract but it does say:
Many different activities of thymol ... especially antibacterial and antifungal properties have been shown.
This is a literature review so it should be possible to find some studies. It looks like there might be something to
the "purple".
posted by Botanizer at 11:45 AM on August 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

The truly weird thing about mouthwash is that the oils may in fact be the active ingredient. Thus why there is an alcohol-free version of Listerine. But on top of that the experimental evidence is pretty weak on the usefullness of mouthwash as a cavity preventer.
posted by wnissen at 2:06 PM on August 30, 2017

IAAD and i'd say it's mostly woo. there's no study out there to back up the claim that this rinse will do any more to stop the progress of incipient caries than any other. Good hygiene (brushing and flossing) do far far more than any rinse for preventing gum disease and decay, period. People whoi just don't brush or floss might see some benefit, but it's mostly from debridement rather than the ingredients.
posted by OHenryPacey at 3:32 PM on August 30, 2017 [2 favorites]

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