What’s All This about Activated Charcoal?

charcoalOf course, oil pulling is just one of a number of natural at-home health practices that more and more folks have been talking about. Another you may be hearing more about these days is activated charcoal. Claims about it range from instant teeth whitening to a good digestive cleanse.

But what do we know about it really?

We’re Not Talking Briquettes

When you hear “charcoal,” your thoughts probably turn to the stuff you might fuel your barbecue grill with. Activated charcoal has been treated with oxygen. This makes it more porous, which makes it more absorbent.

This is why it’s been a go-to treatment for overdose or poisoning. It absorbs toxins so they can’t be absorbed into the stomach.

A classic and frequently cited early demonstration with charcoal was the ingestion of a lethal dose of strychnine mixed with charcoal by Tovery before the 1831 French Academy of Medicine. Tovery suffered no ill effects from the strychnine because of the simultaneous ingestion of charcoal. Similarly, the American physician Hort, by administering oral charcoal, reportedly saved the life of a patient in 1834 who ingested mercury bichloride.

When used for acute poisoning, activated charcoal is given in extremely large doses. But in small doses, it can be used as a supplement.

Activated charcoal comes in a powder, liquid, or pill/capsule form. The powder is typically mixed with water for topical applications on teeth or as a face mask. The liquid and pill forms are typically ingested in small doses (along with large amounts of water) to help with digestion or to remove harmful toxins like mold from the body (yep, mold – in the body).

What’s Charcoal Good For?

A literature review in the Natural Medicine Journal found good or still unclear scientific evidence for activated charcoal’s use in treating conditions ranging from diarrhea to kidney disease. The author also mentions a range of other uses of the supplement based on tradition, hypotheses, or limited research. These include

Aging, asthma, blood disorders, blood purifier, bronchial asthma, deodorant, disease diagnosis, inflammatory skin conditions, irritable bowel syndrome, liver disorders, metabolic disorders, ulcerative colitis.

But it has its uses in dentistry, as well. For instance, mercury-safe dentists may give patients charcoal before and after removing a patient’s amalgam fillings to protect against any mercury that may accidentally be swallowed during the procedures. (Others use chlorella, a single-celled micro-algae that’s also effective for detox.)

It’s also something that some of our patients may be recommended as part of their formal detox regimen, as it binds heavy metals so well.

activated charcoal supplementIncreasingly, we also see people using it at home for teeth whitening – as has been done throughout history. In addition to removing stains, it may also improve oral pH and help keep oral flora in balance (supporting the helpful bacteria, fighting the harmful). Because of this, it’s also said to help tame bad breath, as well.

That said, if you have crowns, veneers, or other tooth-colored dental work, using charcoal can stain such restorations terribly. If you have any, cleaning with charcoal is not for you.

And if you’re thinking about taking activated charcoal as a supplement? Do consult a qualified integrative or naturopathic practitioner before you begin – particularly if you are taking other supplements or medications (including homeopathic ones), or if you are currently being treated for any health conditions. Even supplements can have bad interactions or may trigger troubling side effects.

How Oil Pulling Can Help You Keep a Healthy Smile

healthy smileTried oil pulling yet? The practice has gotten a lot of attention as an easy way to draw out toxins and improve your overall health – your oral health in particular.

Oil pulling isn’t only good at preventing oral infections, but can actively fight them as well. The oil pulls the infection (bacteria, toxins, and pus) out of the tissues, allowing the body to heal itself. Inflammation is quieted, gums stop bleeding, loose teeth tighten, and pain and sensitivity vanish. Teeth become whiter, and gums become pinker and healthier looking.

Indeed, research has consistently shown that oil pulling can reduce bacteria and plaque, reduce gingivitis (early stage gum disease), and improve bad breath – according to one study, as much as chlorhexidine, a common antimicrobial rinse.

A larger study got similar results among a larger group of participants. The authors thus concluded that “oil pulling using coconut oil could be an effective adjuvant procedure in decreasing plaque formation and plaque induced gingivitis.”

This traditional Indian practice has been around for over 3,000 years and hasn’t changed much since then. According to the Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine, the practice is claimed to cure much more than oral health ailments.

Oil pulling, in CAM (Complementary and Alternative Medicine), is a procedure that involves swishing oil in the mouth for oral and systemic health benefits. It is mentioned in the Ayurvedic text Charaka Samhita where it is called Kavala or Gandusha, and is claimed to cure about 30 systemic diseases ranging from headache, migraine to diabetes and asthma. Oil pulling has been used extensively as a traditional Indian folk remedy for many years to prevent decay, oral malodor, bleeding gums, dryness of throat, cracked lips and for strengthening teeth, gums and the jaw.

The paper goes on to note the many preventative attributes of oil pulling.

Oil pulling is a powerful detoxifying Ayurvedic technique that has recently become very popular as a CAM remedy for many different health ailments. Using this method, surgery or medication could be prevented for a number of chronic illnesses. The oil therapy is preventative as well as curative. The exciting aspect of this healing method is its simplicity. Ayurveda advises oil gargling to purify the entire system; as it holds that each section of the tongue is connected to different organ such as to the kidneys, lungs, liver, heart, small intestines, stomach, colon, and spine, similarly to reflexology and TCM.

Coconut oil in particular is recommended due to its lauric acid content. This fatty acid is known for its antimicrobial qualities. (It’s also what keeps coconut oil solid at room temperature.)

Ready to give it a try? All you’ll need is some coconut oil. (Here’s a good guide to choosing a high-quality oil.) Put a tablespoon of the oil into your mouth, and as it begins to melt, start gently swishing it around, moving it over and through your teeth, under your tongue, against your cheeks.

coconut oilDo this for about 5 to 10 minutes to start – the longer, the better – eventually working up to 20 minutes of pulling at least a few days a week. (You can do it every day if you like.)

Simple as that.

Now, if you have an easily triggered gag reflex, you may find oil pulling challenging at first. If this is the case for you, start with a smaller amount of oil for a shorter amount of time, then gradually work up to the full tablespoon for the full 20 minutes. You may also find it easier to use sesame, sunflower, or another oil that’s liquid at room temperature.

Oil pulling should be done first thing in the morning, on an empty stomach and before you brush or floss.

Right: One thing oil pulling doesn’t do is replace brushing and flossing. Those still matter. A lot. But oil pulling is an easy way to take your home hygiene to the next level.

Images by Rupert Taylor-Price & Meal Makeover Moms

We’re #45! The State of Our State’s Oral Health

Texas flag in shape of stateTexas does not come out looking good in the latest rankings on dental health.

According to a pair of reports recently released by WalletHub, Texas ranks near the bottom for

  • The lowest percentage of kids with excellent/very good teeth (#47).
  • The highest percentage of adults who visited a dentist in the past year (#46).
  • Highest percentage of adults with low life satisfaction due to an oral condition (#51 – dead last).

Overall, Texas ranked 45th among the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Only Mississippi, Arkansas, Montana, Alabama, and West Virginia ranked worse. While our “Dental Habits and Care” rank is a middle-of-the-road 27, our state’s “Oral Health” rank is a miserable 47.

Suffice it to say, there’s room for improvement. (And in case you’re wondering, Minnesota was #1 in overall dental health.)

As we’ve noted before, good oral health habits start in youth. The foundation of healthy eating, proper hygiene, and regular dental visits should be laid early. Taking an active, preventive approach to your child’s oral health can mean fewer (and cheaper) dental visits for their lifetime.

Kids who grow up with dental neglect as the norm often become those adults who shun the dentist.

In some cases, it’s because it’s just not something they do, but in other cases, anxiety may be at the root of it. Sometimes the fear is of finding out about problems caused by years of neglect and the cost of addressing them. Sometimes, a bad dental experience can grow into dental fear. Others struggle with their response to particular sounds, smells, or sensations experienced during treatment.

Whatever the cause, there are ways to get the better of that fear – from herbal remedies (e.g., valerian root) to listening to relaxing music through headphones to sedation dentistry.

The most important thing? Let your dentist, hygienists, and assistants know about your apprehensions. We want to do everything we can to help make their visits as relaxing, gentle, and pleasant as possible.

For good oral health is essential to your quality of life. Low life satisfaction can result when oral problems make it hard to eat and chew, for instance, or embarrassment over the state of your teeth. According to the American Dental Association’s Health Policy Institute, “More than one out of three low-income adults say they avoid smiling and 17 percent report difficulty doing usual activities because of the condition of their mouth and teeth.”

Indeed, oral health is, as the title of a study last year in the Journals of Gerontology put it, a “neglected aspect of subjective well-being.”

A deterioration in oral health and oral health–related quality of life increases the risk of depressive symptoms among older adults and highlights the importance of oral health as a determinant of subjective well-being in later life.

In the end, it’s important to remember that dental healthcare doesn’t need to be scary and can be a solution to increasing overall life satisfaction. Talk with your dentist about options that may be available to help you get through any concerns you and your family have.

While it might cause temporary stress and anxiety, remember that regular visits for cleaning and check-ups, partnered with healthy lifestyle and dental habits like avoiding processed foods and brushing and flossing daily, can save you a lot of stress in the long run – both emotional and financial.

Image by AnonMoos based on image by Darwinek

Vaping is Safer than Smoking, Right? Wrong

hand holding e-cigaretteIn a way, vaping is kind of like mercury amalgam: Despite those who insist that it’s safe, it’s not.

It’s certainly not any safer or healthier than smoking. While many believe it can help a person quit smoking, the evidence suggests that it actually encourages it, especially in teens (who also happen to be much more likely to vape than smoke, by the way).

And like smoking, vaping also does a number on oral and systemic health alike.

Targeting the Youth Market

Let’s look at the marketing. Here in the US, e-cigarettes are currently advertised differently than regular cigarettes and tobacco.

Unlike tobacco products, e-cigarettes can be advertised on both TV and the radio in the United States. In some states, e-cig makers can even sell their products to minors. E-cigarettes don’t contain tobacco, but they usually do deliver hits of nicotine. That’s the chemical in tobacco that makes smoking addictive.

But things are set to change in a couple years. Still, for now, e-cigarettes aren’t included in the FDA’s ban on cigarette and tobacco broadcast ads.

Flavors for these e-cigs (oh look, they have a cool name, too!) include everything from watermelon and mint to Strawberrylicious and Peach Pit. A simple online search results in hundreds flavors that could be commonly mistaken as candy flavors. Not only can this be seen as targeting the youth market, websites commonly refer to them as “juices.”

Unsurprisingly, we’ve seen alarming increases in teen vaping.

From 2011 to 2015, e-cigarette use rose from 1.5 percent to 16 percent among high school students and from 0.6 percent to 5.3 percent among middle school students, making e-cigarettes the most commonly used tobacco product among youth for the second straight year.

What’s the Harm?

Regulations of vaping are still in their infancy. Only last year did the FDA say it would start regulating e-cigs, along with other unconventional tobacco products. But that doesn’t go into effect until 2018.

Until that time, the nearly 500 brands and 7,700 flavors of e-cigarettes will remain on the market – before FDA is able to fully evaluate them.

And the upshot? “We don’t presently know what is in e-cigarettes,” as the American Lung Association puts it, just nicotine and “other chemicals.”

That alone should give reason to pause. But the research to date gives even more reason.

For instance, recent research out of Johns Hopkins adds to the evidence that toxic heavy metals are commonly inhaled along with the vapor.

In an examination of five e-cigarette brands’ first-generation devices, researchers found varying levels of cadmium, chromium, lead, manganese, and nickel in the liquid component that, when heated, delivers ingredients such as nicotine and flavors to the user. Researchers believe the main source of the metals — which can be toxic or carcinogenic when inhaled — is the coil that heats the liquid to create the aerosol, which is commonly (but erroneously) referred to as vapor. [emphasis added]

The “juices,” meantime, typically include propylene glycol and vegetable glycerin, along with nicotine and mystery flavoring. Although the FDA approves of propylene glycol as a food additive, it’s also found in products such as aircraft de-icing fluid and antifreeze.

There’s also evidence that vaping is cytotoxic – that is, poisonous to cells. A study published last year in Oral Oncology found that it also does genetic damage, as well.

E-cigarette vapor, both with and without nicotine, is cytotoxic to epithelial cell lines and is a DNA strand break-inducing agent. Further assessment of the potential carcinogenic effects of e-cigarette vapor is urgently needed.

And just like smoking, vaping can wreck your gums. In fact, recent research suggests e-cigarettes may be even more damaging to the cells in your mouth than regular cigarettes.

Clearly, vaping is no safe alternative. The only safe alternative is to avoid nicotine products all together. And if you’ve already started but are ready to quit, here are some great tips to get you started.

Image by Lindsay Fox

A Look Back at…Keeping Your Teeth Naturally Healthy

Originally posted June 4, 2015

The Caries Crisis

tooth models showing cariesAccording to the latest CDC statistics, almost all adults have experienced dental caries – 91% to be exact.

“It is not what people are doing wrong,” Dr. Bruce Dye, who led the survey, told Today. “It is maybe what we can do better.”

Well, that’s a way of putting it – and a positive one at that. Yet tooth decay doesn’t happen just because it happens. Some “wrong” things are playing a role – or, at the very least, are doing little to help.

Consider fluoride, which the Today write-up mentions as one intervention that “greatly reduces rates of tooth decay.” Consider that nearly 70% of Americans receive fluoridated water. Consider that in some stores, it is near impossible to find non-fluoridated toothpastes. Fluoride is everywhere.

Then consider again: 91% of American adults have experienced tooth decay. More than a quarter have untreated tooth decay.

The upside to that startling statistic is that it may be partly explained by the fact that more of us are keeping more of our natural teeth for a longer time. In fact, the rate of edentulism – having no teeth – has dropped almost 40% over the past 50 years.

But the ideal, of course, is not just to keep all your teeth but to keep them in their naturally healthy condition.

A major help is ditching soft drinks and fruit juices – the two biggest culprits when it comes to enamel erosion, which leaves the teeth more vulnerable to decay. Even better is when that’s part of a move to a simpler, more wholesome diet.

It’s interesting to note that our distant ancestors typically had far less oral disease than we do. For instance, people living during the Middle Ages did have problems like worn down or broken teeth, but as recently discussed in a column on Slate:

Contrary to the depiction of medieval peasants with blackened and rotting teeth, the average person in the Middle Ages had teeth that were in very good condition. This is substantially due to one factor—the rarity of sugar in the diet. Most medieval people simply could not afford sugar, and those who could used it sparingly, usually as a seasoning or minor ingredient and almost never as a condiment or the basis of a dish. This means that most people used natural sugars, such as those in fruits and honey; even then, they ate this kind of sugar sparingly. Taken with a diet high in calcium via dairy, high in vegetables and cereals, and low in foods that cause decay, the average medieval person ate the way most modern dentists would recommend for good teeth.

Not surprisingly, tooth decay was actually much less prevalent in the Middle Ages than it became in later centuries, when mass imports of sugar from the tropics made it a staple rather than a rarity. Surveys of archaeological data from the medieval period show that an average of only 20 percent of teeth show any sign of decay, as opposed to up to 90 percent in some early 20th-century populations.

This is totally in line with what Dr. Weston Price found through his observations of indigenous populations. He found that who ate traditional diets consumed at least four times the minerals and water-soluble vitamins than those who ate industrial diets, and had good orofacial development and good oral health. Once they transitioned to a Western, industrial diet with its white flour and refined sugar, crowded, crooked teeth, caries and other problems soon appeared.

Better food: A better way than fluoride to support good oral health.

Image by Xauxa

Dietary Balm for Gum Disease

toothy grin with gum diseaseYou do all the right dental things. You brush at least twice a day. You floss (even if some insist there’s “no scientific evidence”). You schedule your next hygiene appointment before you leave your last one. Still, you have gum disease.

So what base might you be missing? It could well be diet.

A recent pilot study suggests that switching to a low inflammation diet may help that gum disease finally heal.

The small study focused on 15 adults with gingivitis and an apparent appetite for carbs – a major contributor to chronic inflammatory conditions. Ten of them followed a low-carb, anti-inflammatory diet. They were also directed to increase their intake of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin C, vitamin D, and antioxidants.

The remaining five served as the control group and kept on eating their typical high-carb diet. All participants were told to stop using floss or other interdental cleaners but otherwise keep up their usual oral hygiene habits. Each group followed their plan for six weeks.

After the four observational weeks, the experimental group showed significantly reduced gingival and periodontal inflammation compared with the group who did not change their diet. Specifically, reducing carbohydrates led to a significant improvement in gingival index, bleeding on probing, and periodontal inflamed surface area. In addition, increasing omega-3 fatty acids and fibers improved plaque index.

The improvements pose many questions for further studies to explore. First, since the periodontal health indicators occurred despite both groups showing no change in periodontal values, the authors question the actual role plaque plays in the development of gum disease.

Further research will likely be done to determine if one particular component of the anti-inflammatory diet was more significant than another. But one thing’s certain from this very limited study: Dietary pattern plays a significant role in the development of periodontal disease.

In the meantime, you don’t need to wait. You, friend, can be an experiment of one. Give the study’s protocol a try:

  1. Put the kibosh on carbs.
  2. Get on your omega-3 fatty acids.
  3. Welcome the vitamin C and vitamin D.
  4. Eat a rainbow of antioxidants.
  5. Fiber up!

And by all means, keep practicing your effective oral habits!

Image by Morgan

A Look Back at…Ozone for Oral Candidiasis

Originally posted July 16, 2015

Ozone for Oral Candidiasis? Yes, Says New Research

It’s normal to have small amounts of yeasts living in your body. But an overgrowth can mean trouble.

C. albicansFor instance, an overgrowth of Candida albicans (C. albicans) – one of the most studied types of fungus in the human microbiome – generates toxins that your immune system may struggle to cope with, leaving you feeling achy and tired. Unfortunately, the modern Western lifestyle does a lot to feed candidiasis. The sugary and highly acidic Standard American Diet and chronic stress are two major environmental triggers of the condition.

When candidiasis occurs in the mouth, the result is a condition called thrush, which is characterized by white bumps on the tongue, lips or other soft tissues. You may run a fever. Swallowing may be tough.

Candida can also raise your risk of caries and gum disease. Research published last year in Infection and Immunity showed how C. albicans teams up with S. mutans – one of the major caries-causing bacteria – to create stronger, more virulent biofilms (plaque) on the teeth.

Conventional treatment of candida overgrowth typically involves antibiotics and antifungal medicines, but a recent study points to another powerful – and less potentially problematic – tool: ozone.

Published in the Indian Journal of Dental Research, this small but compelling study compared ozone with clotrimazole – a common antifungal med – in the treatment of oral candidiasis. Patients in both groups showed a significant reduction of the yeast, but that reduction was more pronounced for those who were treated with the ozonated water. They experienced a 60.5% reduction – vs. a 32.3% reduction in the clotrimazole group.

And by the end of treatment, more than half of those in the ozone group who had been diagnosed with candidiasis showed no further signs of overgrowth.

“The results of our study,” note the authors,

should provide a guideline for further researches as present findings suggest that ozonated water might be useful to control oral infectious microorganisms, particularly C. albicans. Topical ozone therapy, when given in therapeutic doses through a controlled device, is the safest known therapy.

While and longer term studies are still needed, they add, the present one fits comfortably with previous research on and clinical experience of the power of ozone to treat both oral and systemic infections alike.

Stevia’s Powerfully Sweet Benefits

Through recent years, we’ve seen research tout the wonders of this sugar substitute or that – xylitol, erythritol, and now the latest star?

Stevia plantStevia – technically known as Stevia rebaudiana.

A perennial shrub native to South America, stevia has been traditionally used by native peoples as a sweetener. Unlike xylitol and erythritol, which are highly processed sugar alcohols that may be sourced from GMO crops or the yeast that comes from them, stevia really is natural. Also unlike xylitol and erythritol, its sweetness is integral to the plant – a result of complex compounds in its leaf.

And according to a literature review recently published in Molecules, those compounds also appear to have antimicrobial qualities, as well, combatting oral pathogens – the harmful bacteria that contribute to decay and gum disease.

This is far from stevia’s only power. Other research has suggested significant therapeutic benefits, including

  • Anti-hyperglycemic effects that could potentially lower glucose levels in the blood.
  • Anti-hypertensive effects that may modulate hypertension.
  • Anti-tumor properties that may play a role in the body’s immune responses to pathogens and tumor cells.
  • Anti-diarrheal effects that may slow intestinal spasms and thicken stool.
  • Diuretic effects that may help your body shed excess water and salt.
  • Anti-bacterial effects.
  • Anti-fungal effects.
  • Anti-viral activity.

And unlike other zero calorie sweeteners, stevia won’t cause you to bloat, pass gas or run to the bathroom with incredible urgency. It won’t cause you to gain weight, increase your chance at developing diabetes, or predispose you to a multitude of cancers.

But before you run out to stock up on the stuff, you should know that many products that look at first glance like pure stevia are nothing of the sort. Perhaps the most glaring example is Cargill’s Truvia. Cargill was sued for having misleadingly labeled and marketed its product as “natural” when in fact they contained highly processed and GMO ingredients.

This serves as a reminder to always read labels before buying. The product you want is 100% pure stevia extract. (Here’s a good run down of fillers you’re apt to find in powdered stevia products.)

Coca Cola LifeAn interesting side note: To this day, the FDA still hasn’t given its stamp of approval to stevia. Only refined stevia products have. These aren’t considered stevia but Rebaudioside A, a steviol glycoside extracted from the plant. Some allege that the makers of other sugar substitutes pressured the FDA into this position so as to keep stevia off the market – until Coke and Pepsi had developed derivative products they wanted approved.

That said, stevia isn’t something you have to buy. You can grow your own plants and make your own liquid extract at home.

That feels so subversive and defiant, it makes you almost want to shout, “Power to the People!”

Images by Fluffymuppet, Mike Mozart

Just What Is Biological Dentistry Anyway?

Probiotic Support for Your Mouth’s Very Own Rebel Alliance

If you were to stand in front of a mirror and look deep inside your mouth, you might see some interesting things. But what you wouldn’t see are the 800 or so different types of bacteria that call your mouth home.

wide open mouthIn fact, it’s the most diverse microbial population in your body. Yep, your mouth has more kinds of bacteria than your gut! Why? Your mouth is dark and moist, has a variety of surface textures, and is constantly fed with nutrients.

In other words, it’s the perfect breeding ground.

If you’re icked out by that, thinking all microbes are the “bad guys,” think again. In our attempt to search and destroy all bacteria on our bodies, in our bodies, and in our homes, we’ve virtually ignored how beneficial so many microbes really are. Like the Rebel Alliance, they stand vigilant in an attempt to keep us healthy. And while most microbiome studies currently focus on gut flora, we might do well to remember, the mouth is actually the start of our gastrointestinal tract.

By way of digestion, your mouth is connected to your gut. That’s one reason why maintaining a diverse population of helpful bacteria in your mouth helps maintain whole body health. Research on the relationship between chronic inflammatory diseases and gum disease already proves this.

Helpful and harmful bacteria are always in relationship with each other. Like any relationship – nothing personal here – coexisting isn’t always easy. And as part of a complex ecosystem, your beneficial oral flora must not only forge relationships with each other. If they’re to survive and hold down the health fort, they must also establish relationships with your gut, skin, and urogenital tract bacteria, too.

Providing your body with probiotics – living, beneficial microbes – helps those invisible troopers bloom with healthy oral flora. In a balanced relationship with other constituents, they work as a natural defense system in your body.

The most common – and most commonly studied – strains are Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. Both are considered part of the normal human microbiota. They’re even present in breast milk.

But just because you’ve been weaned doesn’t mean you can’t reap the benefits of these well-studied probiotics and hundreds of others. For one, you can eat foods that contain them. These include

  • Yogurt.
  • Kefir.
  • Kimchi.
  • Fermented pickles.
  • Kombucha.
  • Sauerkraut.
  • Miso.
  • Raw cheese.
  • Buttermilk.
  • Fermented cod liver oil.
  • Tempeh.
  • Raw apple cider vinegar.

There are also a variety of supplements available to support a healthy balance of oral flora. A good biological dentist or naturopathic physician can recommend products best suited to your individual needs.

As for the oral health benefits of including probiotics in your diet? Here’s a sample of what the scientific literature has reported:

  • Improved gingival health.
  • Decreased gum bleeding.
  • Decreased inflammatory markers in saliva.
  • Decreased pocket depth in high risk groups such as smokers.
  • Reduced oral candida (yeast) counts in some populations.
  • Reduced counts of cavity-causing bacteria in saliva.
  • Reduced halitosis (bad breath).

How will YOU up your intake of probiotics to help keep both mouth and body at their healthiest?

Image by Pietro Garrone