In a study to test coconut oil’s biocidal properties against the bacteria responsible for tooth decay, the oil proved to be quite effective.
The action of coconut oil was tested in its natural state and after being treated with enzymes, in a process similar to digestion. The oils were tested against strains of Streptococcus bacteria, which are common inhabitants of your mouth.
They found that enzyme-modified coconut oil strongly inhibits the growth of most strains of Streptococcus bacteria, including Streptococcus mutans, an acid-producing bacterium that is a major cause of tooth decay.1 It is thought that the breaking down of the fatty coconut oil by the enzymes turns it into acids, which are toxic to certain bacteria.2 Chief researcher Dr. Damien Brady said:
“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.”
6 Reasons to Use Coconut Oil as Toothpaste
A case could be made that coconut oil has a near-perfect makeup to act as an effective toothpaste. Six top reasons, as reported by MindBodyGreen, include:3
1. No Harmful Chemicals
Conventional toothpaste such as Colgate Total contains an antibacterial chemical called triclosan, which has been linked to concerns over antibiotic resistance and endocrine disruption.
Endocrine-disrupting chemicals are a serious concern, as they can promote a wide variety of health problems, including: breast, ovarian, prostate, and testicular cancer, preterm and low birth weight babies, precocious puberty in girls, and undescended testicles in boys.
Some animal studies showed that triclosan caused fetal bone malformations in mice and rats, which may hint at hormonal effects.
Fluoride is another common chemical in conventional toothpaste. Fluoride is a toxic industrial waste product that is a poison to your body even in trace amounts…
2. Effective Against Cavity-Causing Bacteria
Research even shows that massaging coconut oil into your gums for about 10 minutes daily (continued for three weeks) significantly reduces decay-causing Streptococcus mutans as well as plaque.4
3. No Foaming Agents
Many toothpastes also contain surfactants like sodium laurel sulfate, sodium laureth sulfate (SLS), or sodium lauryl ether sulfate (SLES). Surfactants are chemicals responsible for the foaming action of the toothpaste, but they also interfere with the functioning of your taste buds by breaking up the phospholipids on your tongue.
This enhances bitter tastes and is thought to be the reason why everything tastes so bad right after you’ve brushed your teeth. This may also be part of why coconut oil works so well for oral hygiene, as it helps maintain a more natural balance of lipids on your tongue, while still having potent antibacterial properties.
Not to mention, SLS has even been linked to painful canker sores, with research suggesting an SLS-free toothpaste should be used for people with recurring sores.5
It takes only a small amount of coconut oil to keep your teeth clean, and one jar can easily last you months, making it a very inexpensive toothpaste.
5. You Can Use It on Your Dog’s Teeth Too
While you wouldn’t want to brush your pets’ teeth with ordinary “human” toothpaste, coconut oil is effective and safe for dogs and humans alike. Applying it with a toothbrush would be best, but your pet may even get some oral health benefits just from licking a small amount of oil. The recipe below is not recommended for dogs. As noted, some ingredients that are fine for human consumption can be toxic for pets.
6. Simple to Make
Coconut oil toothpaste is simple to make with just a few ingredients:
- Coconut oil
- Baking soda, which acts as an abrasive and helps with whitening
- Essential oils to give your toothpaste flavor and add additional therapeutic benefits. Peppermint oil extract, for instance, has been shown to be superior to the mouthwash chemical chlorhexidine in inhibiting the formation of biofilm formations linked to dental cavities.6
- Erythritol, xylitol, or stevia (optional), which are natural sweeteners. Xylitol, in particular, has been linked to reductions in cavities.7 However, if you plan to give this toothpaste to your dog, do not include xylitol, as it is toxic to dogs.
- Bentonite clay, which adds a paste-like consistency and may help draw out toxins from your gums and tongue
You Can Use Coconut Oil for Oil Pulling Too
Oil pulling involves ‘rinsing’ your mouth with coconut oil, much like you would with a mouthwash (except you shouldn’t attempt to gargle with it). The oil is “worked” around your mouth by pushing, pulling, and drawing it through your teeth for about 10-15 minutes. When you’re first starting out, you may want to try it for just five minutes at a time.
This process allows the oil to “pull out” cavity-causing bacteria and other debris from your mouth. Once the oil turns thin and milky white, you’ll know it’s time to spit it out. As reported by the Indian Journal of Dental Research:8
“Oil pulling has been used extensively as a traditional Indian folk remedy without scientific proof for many years for strengthening teeth, gums, and jaws and to prevent decay, oral malodor, bleeding gums, and dryness of throat and cracked lips.”
However, oil pulling does appear to have a significant cleansing and healing effect, which is backed by science:
- Oil pulling reduced counts of Streptococcus mutants bacteria – a significant contributor to tooth decay – in the plaque and saliva of children.9 Researchers concluded, “Oil pulling can be used as an effective preventive adjunct in maintaining and improving oral health.”
- Oil pulling significantly reduced plaque, improved gum health, and reduced aerobic microorganisms in plaque among adolescent boys with plaque-induced gingivitis10
- Oil pulling is as effective as mouthwash at improving bad breath and reducing the microorganisms that may cause it11
- Oil pulling benefits your mouth, in part, via its mechanical cleaning action.12 Researchers noted, “The myth that the effect of oil-pulling therapy on oral health was just a placebo effect has been broken and there are clear indications of possible saponification and emulsification process, which enhances its mechanical cleaning action.”
It’s worth noting that the above studies used sesame oil, which is traditionally recommended.
Why I Don’t Recommend Fluoridated Toothpaste
Fluoride has long been heralded as the answer to decaying teeth, but it’s been receiving increasing scrutiny in recent years and for good reason. A groundbreaking study published in the journal Langmuir13 uncovered that the supposedly beneficial fluorapatite layer formed on your teeth from fluoride is a mere six nanometers thick.
To understand just how thin this is, you’d need 10,000 of these layers to get the width of a strand of your hair! Scientists now question whether this ultra-thin layer can actually protect your enamel and provide any discernible benefit, considering the fact that it is quickly eliminated by simple chewing. They wrote:
“…it has to be asked whether such narrow… layers really can act as protective layers for the enamel.”
In fact, toothpaste that contains the naturally occurring cacao extract theobromine better repaired and re-mineralized exposed dentin (the tissue that makes up the bulk of your teeth below the enamel) than fluoride toothpaste, according to one study.14 Not to mention, fluoride toothpaste is often the largest single source of fluoride intake for young children and is a major risk factor for disfiguring dental fluorosis. This is because children swallow a large amount of the paste that they put in their mouth.
In fact, research has shown that it is not uncommon for young children to swallow more fluoride from toothpaste alone than is recommended as an entire day’s ingestion from all sources.15 Swallowing fluoride, as is the case with fluoridated drinking water, is especially detrimental to your health, as the science clearly demonstrates that fluoride is a toxic chemical that accumulates in your tissues over time, wreaks havoc with enzymes, and produces a number of serious adverse health effects, including neurological and endocrine dysfunction.
Children are particularly at risk for adverse effects of overexposure. If you have a young child, therefore, it’s recommended that you use a non-fluoride toothpaste, although I recommend the same for adults as well.
A Comprehensive Approach to Improve Your Dental Health
Toothpaste containing natural ingredients, like baking soda, essential oils, xylitol, and others, appears to be more effective and safer than fluoride-containing toothpaste. There’s no reason to risk exposing yourself to fluoride or other dangerous chemicals like triclosan and sodium lauryl sulfate. Here are my basic guidelines for optimizing your dental health, safely and naturally:
- Avoid fluoridated water and fluoridated toothpaste. Instead use natural non-fluoride toothpaste, either homemade or from a reputable brand.
- Minimize your sugar and grain consumption. Keep your fructose intake to less than 25 grams per day. Avoid processed foods.
- Make sure you consume a diet rich in fresh, whole foods, fermented vegetables, and grass-fed meats, which will ensure you’re getting plenty of the minerals that are so important for strong bones and teeth.
- Practice good oral hygiene and get regular cleanings from a mercury-free natural dentist. Scrubbing your teeth briskly with a washcloth before brushing can also help to remove the built-up biofilm.
Finally, remember that nature provides many natural solutions to freshen your breath. Chewing on fresh parsley, mint, cilantro, or ginger slices is a natural breath freshener, for instance. Placing a cucumber slice on the roof of your mouth may also help to rid your mouth of odor-causing bacteria. According to the principles of Ayurveda, eating cucumbers may also help to release excess heat in your stomach, which is said to be a primary cause of bad breath.16
- 1 BBC News September 2, 2012
- 2 Athlone News September 3, 2012
- 3 MindBodyGreen April 12, 2015
- 4 J Indian Soc Periodontol. 2014 Jul;18(4):441-6.
- 5 Compend Contin Educ Dent. 1997 Dec;18(12):1238-40.
- 6 GreenMedInfo March 19, 2013
- 7 J Calif Dent Assoc. 2003 Mar;31(3):205-9.
- 8 12 Indian J Dent Res. 2011 Jan-Feb;22(1):34-7.
- 9 J Indian Soc Pedod Prev Dent. 2008 Mar;26(1):12-7.
- 10 Indian J Dent Res. 2009 Jan-Mar;20(1):47-51.
- 11 J Indian Soc Pedod Prev Dent. 2011 Apr-Jun;29(2):90-4.
- 13 Langmuir. 2010 Dec 21;26(24):18750-9.
- 14 PRNewswire October 31, 2013
- 15 Fluoride Action Network August 2012
- 16 TheHealthSite February 3, 2014