Are Essential Oils Safe in Toothpaste and Mouthwash?

Kamaldeep Singh -

Are Toothpaste and Mouthwash with Essential Oils Good For Dental Health?

Essential oils in mouthwash, toothpaste, and dental care are all the rage. But are they healthy for your mouth and the oral microbiome? In this article, we’ll take a look at the science behind these plant-based compounds to determine whether they’re beneficial or harmful to oral health.

What Are Essential Oils?

Essential oils are secondary products of plants. The plant produces the oils for a variety of reasons including for protection in repelling pests and microbes, as well as to attract pollinators. Since ancient times, essential oils have been used for various health concerns, but recently they have gained popularity. There are approximately 3,000 essential oils, including lemon oil, lavender, clove oil, and tea tree oil.

What Are Essential Oils Used For In The Mouth?

Essential oils are used in some mouthwashes, toothpastes, and other dental care products. Essential oils in mouthwash and toothpaste are used to:

• Maintain daily oral hygiene

• Inhibit gum disease

• Stop bad breath

• Treat oral thrush (candidiasis)

• Prevent cavities

• Sanitize toothbrushes

Which Essential Oils Are Antibacterial? 

Some, but not all, essential oils are antibacterial and antifungal. Many are able to break down oral bacterial biofilms, colonies of bacteria that adhere to a surface, such as the teeth or gums. One caveat is that most of these essential oils have only been studied in a laboratory setting, with laboratory strains of bacteria and fungi. Their effects on the microbiome are still unclear. Here are some of the more common antibacterial and antifungal essential oils in mouthwash, toothpaste, and other dental products:

• Lavender oil, including its primary active component linalool, has antimicrobial activity against most bacteria, filamentous fungi, and yeasts including the fungus Cryptococcus neoformans and Candida, the causative agent in oral thrush. It also inhibits the growth of Aspergillus. Dental applications include reducing the pain of needle insertion and can be used in diffusers in dentists’ waiting rooms to reduce anxiety.

 Components of eucalyptus oil possess antibacterial activity against gram-negative bacteria such as Escherichia coli and gram-positive bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus. Eucalyptus oil is also anti-inflammatory and stimulates the innate cell-mediated immune response. It may be useful in reducing biofilm related to cavities. 

• Peppermint (Mentha piperita) oil inhibits the proliferation of staphylococci. It can also suppress Candida species. Peppermint oil completely inhibits biofilm formation of Candida albicans, making it less pathogenic and more susceptible to medications. Peppermint oil is widely used in oral hygiene products not only for its ability to cover up bad flavors and freshen bad breath, but also for its mild antibacterial effect. Further, it provides antioxidant activity, a cooling effect in the mouth] , and can numb pain (analgesic).

• In a clinical trial, tea tree oil (Melaleuca alternifolia) applied as a gel inhibited a number of bacterial colonies and dental biofilm. It exerts strong antibacterial action and prevents the adhesion of oral pathogens such as Porphyromonas gingivalis and Streptococcus mutans. It also has antifungal activity.

• Lemon oil acts against three Candida species: C. albicans, C. tropicalis, and C. glabrata, which are the most common species related to oral thrush. Therefore, it may be useful for overgrowth of Candida species in the mouth, known as oral candidiasis or oral thrush.

• Clove oil is an antioxidant that’s antifungal and antibacterial. Clove oil and its primary component eugenol suppress ergosterol, a component of fungal cell membranes. It also inhibits C. albicans and multi-drug-resistant Staphylococcus.

• Cinnamon oil is an antioxidant and inhibits a variety of gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria. It also has antifungal action and is used to reduce oral thrush.

Disadvantages of Conventional Dental Products

Essential oils are useful for people who don’t want to use conventional dental care products. They may be looking for a more holistic or natural approach to dental care. Conventional antibacterial agents currently used to treat oral health problems are associated with side effects such as diarrhea and vomiting. Meanwhile, antibiotic agents may encourage drug-resistant oral bacteria. 

Some dentists prescribe chlorhexidine, an antimicrobial mouthwash, to kill the microbes in the mouth that may be contributing to gingivitis (inflammation of the gums). Chlorhexidine is associated with side effects such as change in taste, increased tartar on the teeth, and staining of the teeth, as well as less common effects like swollen glands on the side of the face or neck, or mouth or tongue irritation. Chlorhexidine mouthwash can kill good bacteria in the mouth, causing unexpected problems elsewhere in the body, such as high blood pressure.

It’s commonly thought that essential oils or other natural products do not have as potent of an antibiotic effect on microbiota as conventional antibiotic products. Plant products such as essential oils are less likely to promote drug resistant bacteria because of their complex makeup, which includes a number of phytochemicals, not just one constituent.

Much more research is needed to understand the benefits and drawbacks of essential oils in oral health care products. 

Do Essential Oils Kill Good Bacteria?

The evidence is not clear whether essential oils in mouthwash and toothpaste can actually kill off good bacteria in the mouth. It is logical to assume that a substance that kills harmful bacteria may also have adverse effects on beneficial bacteria, too. For this reason, dentist Dr. Mark Burhenne advises patients to use essential oil mouthwash and toothpastes sparingly and not for everyday maintenance.

It’s important to keep in mind that Listerine, which is sometimes billed as an essential oils mouthwash, actually contains other ingredients besides essential oils that may have adverse effects on oral health.  However, one study that investigated the use of Listerine in patients under periodontal care found that the mouthwash did not affect the oral microbiota.

Short-term treatment with essential oils may be useful in the treatment of oral dysbiosis, or an unhealthy imbalance of oral microbes, according to some functional dentists. Oral dysbiosis symptoms include gingivitis, cavities, bad breath, gum disease, or other oral health problems.

Essential oils can have side effects. In one preparation of sage, hyssop, thuja, and cedar, patients developed neurotoxic and human intoxication symptoms. However, the most common side effect of essential oils is dermatitis, or skin irritation.

Other Recommendations When Using Essential Oils

Here are some other considerations when using essential oils:

• Pay attention to how strong the mouthwash or toothpaste smells. A strong scent could be a sign of stronger antimicrobial action.

• Consider making your own mouthwash. Dr. Burhenne’s essential oils mouthwash recipe includes a combination of baking soda, xylitol, turmeric, L-arginine, whole cloves, calcium carbonate, and blue-green algae.

• Consult with your dentist to see if you need essential oils for better oral health or if your current dental hygiene program is working well.

The Bottom Line on Essential Oils and Oral Health

Essential oils have a lot of beneficial properties. They inhibit or kill potentially harmful bacteria and fungus and they can act as antioxidants. More research is needed to thoroughly investigate their effect on the oral microbiome and if they can harm beneficial bacteria. Meanwhile, talk with your dentist to see if you need to treat oral dysbiosis with essential oils. Test your oral microbiome to find out if you need to use essential oils. If you are already using essential oils in your dental hygiene routine, testing can help you see how they are impacting your oral bacteria.

Testing the Oral Microbiome

One way to figure out if using essential oils is a good choice for your oral microbiome is to use Bristle’s oral microbiome test kit. By providing a saliva sample and sending it to our lab, you’ll get an overview of more than 100 bacteria in your mouth and their relationship to health and disease. You’ll also get one-on-one coaching with an oral health specialist and personalized diet, lifestyle, and product recommendations.

Stay tuned in for updates on new discoveries and future product launches!