How Coconut Oil Might Combat Tooth Decay

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December 08, 2012 | 727,623 views

Story at-a-glance

  • Coconut oil is a powerful inhibitor of a large variety of pathogenic organisms, from viruses to bacteria to protozoa, largely due to its naturally high lauric acid content
  • Researchers in Ireland found that coconut oil treated with enzymes, in a process similar to digestion, strongly inhibits Streptococcus bacteria, which are common inhabitants in your mouth that can lead to plaque buildup, cavities, and gum disease
  • Although a healthful diet (low in sugar, grains, and processed foods, and high in fermented vegetables, whole foods, and grass-fed meats) can improve your dental health, you may still experience problems with plaque
  • Pathogenic oral bacteria and their toxins can harm more than just your mouth when they circulate through your bloodstream—they can potentially cause secondary infections and chronic inflammation throughout your body
  • Two additional strategies may help reduce plaque buildup: consuming naturally fermented vegetables daily, and the use of a technique called oil pulling; over the last year, these two strategies have radially improved my own long-standing plaque problem

By Dr. Mercola

Coconuts are among the most nutritionally dense foods on the planet and have been a dietary staple for millennia. Western science is now "playing catch-up" to what natives of tropical regions have known for thousands of years. One of the reasons coconut is so special is that it's a natural antimicrobial food.

Coconut, especially its oil, is a powerful destroyer of all kinds of microbes, from viruses to bacteria to protozoa, many of which harm human health.

Researchers at the Athlone Institute of Technology's Bioscience Research Institute in Ireland set out to test coconut oil's biocidal properties against the bacteria responsible for tooth decay.

Dental caries is a commonly overlooked problem affecting 60 to 90 percent of children and the majority of adults in industrialized countries, according to chief researcher Dr. Damien Brady. His research team tested the antibacterial action of coconut oil in its natural state and coconut oil that had been 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. Also, a possible risks in getting strep throat.

They found that enzyme-modified coconut oil strongly inhibits the growth of most strains of Streptococcus bacteria, including symptoms of Streptococcus mutans, an acid-producing bacterium that is a major cause of tooth decay1. 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 Enzyme-modified coconut oil was also harmful to the yeast Candida albicans, which can cause thrush.

Dr. 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."

The work also contributes to our understanding of antibacterial activity in the human gut, which helps maintain the balanced flora necessary for a strong immune system.

"Our data suggests that products of human digestion show antimicrobial activity. This could have implications for how bacteria colonize the cells lining the digestive tract and for overall gut health," explained Dr. Brady.

The Many Health Benefits of Coconut Oil

Coconut oil offers an impressive array of health benefits. In addition to its antimicrobial properties, coconut oil is beneficial for:

  • Promoting heart health
  • Supporting proper thyroid function
  • Strengthening your immune system
  • Providing an excellent "fuel" for your body and supporting a strong metabolism
  • Maintaining healthy and youthful looking skin

One of the primary reasons coconut oil's benefits are so broad is that 50 percent of the fat in coconut oil is lauric acid, which is rarely found in nature. In fact, coconut oil contains the most lauric acid of any substance on Earth. Your body converts lauric acid into monolaurin, a monoglyceride that can actually destroy lipid-coated viruses such as HIV and herpes, influenza, measles, gram-negative bacteria, and protozoa such as giardia lamblia.

Another of coconut oil's antimicrobial components is capric acid, present in lesser amounts.

Coconut oil is also comprised of medium chain fatty acids (MCFAs), which are smaller than the long chain fatty acids that are much more common to vegetable and seed oils. MCFAs are easily digested and readily cross cell membranes, and are sent directly to your liver, where they are immediately converted into energy rather than stored as fat. Coconut oil is easy on your digestive system and does not produce an insulin spike in your bloodstream.

A Traditional Diet Might Not Guarantee You Perfect Oral Health

In the 1900s, Dr. Weston A. Price did extensive research on the link between oral health and physical diseases. He discovered that the most successful primitive groups health-wise were those who paid attention to and integrated beneficial ancient knowledge and dietary wisdom into their lives. The difference, Price reasoned, between primitive cultures who were healthy and those who were diseased came not from solely eating a traditional diet (as they all did), but in the accumulated wisdom enjoyed by certain populations, which allowed them to enjoy optimal health.

One of the keys to oral health is eating a traditional diet rich in fresh, unprocessed vegetables, nuts, and grass-fed meats that are in line with your genetic ancestry. However, as beneficial as that diet is to your dental and overall health, it might not be enough to guarantee perfect oral health.

We know, of course, that eating junk food and sugar certainly causes and worsens dental decay in humans, but there must be more to the story. There is evidence of tooth decay in ancient populations, long before there was exposure to refined sugar and white flour, as well as among wild animals today. Even some dolphins, which generally eat no carbohydrates whatsoever — only fish, squid, and crustaceans — have problems with tooth decay. Clearly, simply following a traditional diet is not enough to explain this phenomenon, or else there would be no dental decay in ancient peoples or wildlife.

Plaque-Busting Strategy No. 1: Fermented Vegetables

In the past, I was also challenged with plaque accumulation which resulted in my having to make monthly visits to the dental hygienist. It seemed no amount of brushing, flossing, and even using a dental irrigator diminished this problem. However, in November of 2011, I was introduced to the first of two natural strategies that have significantly improved my plaque problem. The trick? Simply adding healthy amounts of high quality fermented vegetables to my diet.

Fermented vegetables are loaded with friendly flora that not only improve digestion but alter the flora in your mouth as well. Since the addition of these foods into my diet, my plaque has decreased by 50 percent and is much softer. I later further refined my approach by doing oil pulling with coconut oil and learning how to specifically target the primary source of plague, which is the junction of the tooth and gum surface by carefully directing my toothbrush at the appropriate angle.

Total Video Length: 01:12:05

Download Interview Transcript

Proper dental hygiene is important for optimal health in your mouth and in the rest of your body, as discussed by Dr. Bill Osmunson in the interview above. When it comes to preventing cavities, drinking fluoridated water and brushing your teeth with fluoridated toothpaste is not the answer, because fluoride is more toxic than lead. The key is your diet and proper dental care: good old brushing and flossing. By avoiding sugars and processed foods, you prevent the proliferation of the bacteria that cause decay in the first place.

Practicing twice daily brushing and flossing, along with regular cleanings by your biological dentist and hygienist, will ensure that your teeth and gums are as healthy as they can be. You may want to try oil pulling to enhance your current dental hygiene routine.

In addition to consuming foods that are part of the "traditional diet" and avoiding processed foods and refined sugar, make sure you are getting plenty omega-3 fats. The latest research suggests even moderate amounts of omega-3 fats may help ward off gum disease. My favorite source of high quality omega-3 fat is krill oil.

And speaking of sugar, a particular type of honey from New Zealand called Manuka honey has also been shown to be effective in reducing plaque. Researchers found Manuka honey worked as well as chemical mouthwash — and better than the cavity fighting sugar alcohol, xylitol — in reducing levels of plaque. This is most likely due to the honey's antibacterial properties. Clinical trials have shown that Manuka honey can effectively eradicate more than 250 clinical strains of bacteria, including antibiotic-resistant varieties.

I still believe that oil pulling with coconut oil gives you more bang for your buck for your oral health, but just realize you have natural options to replace harsh and often toxic chemicals.

[+]Sources and References [-]Sources and References

  • 1 BBC News September 2, 2012
  • 2 Athlone News September 3, 2012
  • 3 Coconut Research Center