A few weeks ago we learned that a medieval remedy for eye infections killed one of the scariest modern microbes: methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus also called MRSA or just the “superbug” because of its resistance to one of the world’s strongest antibiotics.
Does this exciting discovery mean we’re likely to see a wave of new gum disease treatments based on ancient recipes? It’s possible, but not very likely, as many of the medieval recipes have long been tested–with the exception of the ones that are just as dangerous to the user as the bug they’re supposed to fight.
Garlic is the dominant ingredient in the MRSA-killing formula, and it’s a common ingredient in medieval health recipes. The good news is that garlic does seem to be an effective ingredient in fighting oral bacteria like Streptococcus mutans, one of the most damaging oral bacteria.
In fact, one study showed that garlic extract mouthwash was nearly twice as effective as chlorhexidine mouthwash in reducing S. mutans concentrations over an 8-day trial period.
The bad news: garlic is not exactly what most people are looking for in a mouthwash. One trial showed that 90% of users complained about bad breath after using it.
Mint, on the other hand, seems like an ideal option for treating gum disease. It also shows up in a lot of medieval recipes for mouthwashes and treating bleeding gums.
But the bad news is that it doesn’t really seem to work very well. It’s been tested several times and it doesn’t seem to have a significant effect on Streptococcus mutans or other plaque-forming oral bacteria. (To be fair, commercial formulas like Listerine didn’t work in that last study, either.) On the other hand, cinnamon oil does have promise as a natural mouthwash that doesn’t stink.
It’s important to know that although some herbal remedies prove effective in some situations, not all of them are equally good at delivering promised results. Before you try out any old recipes for oral care, talk to your dentist and consider whether the ingredients might be harmful. For example, many medieval recipes for mouthwashes contained vinegar, which could clean your mouth out, but is dangerously acidic for your teeth.