Unfortunately, too many people think about their teeth only in crisis stage. A common pre-crisis symptom is receding gums. This is a widespread condition when the gums pull away from the teeth, forming gaps and eventually exposing the bone structures that support the teeth. Over time, this will lead to the formation of pockets of bacteria causing gingivitis which, if untreated, can lead to periodontitis and eventual tooth loss. Unfortunately, the gums don’t grow back when the problem gets to the periodontitis stage.

In the past, herbalists recommended tooth powders with a number of astringent and antibacterial herbs, such as bayberry bark and fruit, for the conditions noted above. Astringent herbs tighten the gums that hold our teeth in place, and also destroy the bacteria and viruses that would exacerbate the problem of receding gums. Such treatments were effective but sometimes had the disadvantage of marring the tooth enamel, especially if the herbs are not finely powdered. Another common tooth powder ingredient, myrrh resin can injure tooth enamel if used long-term as well.

One little-known herb that that is used to treat gum disease is rhatany root Rhatany root (Krameria triandra), also called krameria. It is the root of a common shrub that grows on the mountain slopes of Peru and Bolivia. There are a few different subspecies but they all have the same basic properties. When taken internally, it is less likely to upset the stomach which other strong astringent herbs and barks sometimes do. You can find many online sources for rhatany root. If you don’t care to make your own herbal extract you can find many dealers of who sell one-ounce tinctures of these herbs.

Krameria is a powerful astringent rich in tannic acid. Tannins are a constituent found in many plants, and especially in oak bark, which was used to tan leather because tannin coalesces the protein strands of flesh. Tannins are plant phenolic compounds which bind to proteins, amino acids, alkaloids and precipitate them for destruction and removal from the body. Tannic acid is one of the most effective antibacterial and antiviral substances found in plants.  Tannins inhibit viral activity and their receptor binding ability to attach themselves to different types of surfaces. Tannic herbs can be also used externally as a wash or suppository for treating diarrhea, leucorrhea, sore throat, hemorrhages and hemorrhoids.

Astringency and tannins in herbs, roots and barks is so common that even herbalists ignore and take them for granted. However, at least one Chinese Herb manufacturer, Evergreen herbs, whose highly effective Chinese formulas are  based on Taiwanese use, calls their all-purpose detoxification formula, Astringent Formula.

One of the most potent astringents and antimicrobials is pomegranate. All parts of the plant are effective for a wide range of bacterial and viral pathogens. In fact, just two glasses of pomegranate juice taken twice a day for four or five days has been found to stop viruses from replicating and may reduce the effects of the flu overall.

Pomegranate is not traditionally used for the teeth, but its skin is a powerful astringent and could be dried and powdered and used as a treatment for receding gums, gingivitis and periodontitis.

DIY Astringent Herbal Mouthwash

To make your own astringent mouthwash, experiment combining any number of the above mentioned herbs as an alcoholic extract. Simply macerate 8 ounces of the powdered herbs in 2 pints of vodka in a wide mouth jar. Let this stand for a couple of weeks, shaking the jar periodically.  Then strain through a cotton cloth and bottle for use. As a final touch, for flavor as well as therapeutic efficacy, add a few drops of food-grade cinnamon oil. Experiment first with a few drops, adding more according to taste.

Next, purchase an oral irrigator or water flosser (such as Waterpik). When filling the reservoir with water, add one teaspoon to a tablespoon of the herbal tincture. Use the water flosser to clean your teeth front, back, in between and directly up on the gums. You can also rinse your mouth and gargle with it for sore throats and to freshen your breath. Do not swallow the solution.

I’m sure you will find this far more effective for your teeth and gums than any toothpaste, tooth powder, or, if used with the water flosser, even the use of a toothbrush.

One sovereign rule: do not mix tannins with iron or plants rich in iron such as Polygonum multiflorum and molasses. Tannins tend to bind with iron in the blood and can lead to iron deficiency diseases.  This is one reason that most herbalists don’t recommend herbs such as those mentioned that are particularly high in tannins for long-term use.

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