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Herbal mix provides ‘cure’ for dental ache, decay

By Chukwuma Muanya, Assistant Editor   |   02 February 2017   |   3:27 am

Besides cloves, which has already received global acceptance for treating dental problems, more local plants have been validated as chewing sticks and mouthwashes for treating toothache, tooth decay, gingivitis (swollen gums) and periodontal (gum) disease. CHUKWUMA MUANYA, Assistant Editor, writes.

Nigerian and Indian researchers have identified more local plants that could be used as chewing sticks and as potential candidates for the production of dentifrice and other natural products for oral hygiene and treatment of tooth problems.

Dentifrices, including toothpowder and toothpaste, are agents used along with a toothbrush to clean and polish natural teeth. Top on the list are Syzygium aromaticum (cloves), Newbouldia laevis, Fagara zanthoxyloides, Psidium guajava (guava), Azadiratcha indica (neem/dogonyaro), Citrus paradisi (grapefruit), Garcinia kola (bitter kola fruits) and Nicotiana tobacum leaves (tobacco).

Toothache is the condition in which severe pain is experienced in the region near the root of a carious tooth. Dental caries (tooth decay) is the result of a progressive destruction of tooth enamel by bacteria and bacteria products within the oral environment.


Oral pain occurs as a result of bacteria activity in the pulp of a carious tooth. Two bacteria types have been implicated in caries formation: Streptococci mutans and Lactobacilli. Streptococci mutans produces an enzyme dextran-sucrase, which converts the sucrose of food to dextrin, and dextrin combines with salivary proteins to create a sticky, colorless film (plaque) on tooth surfaces. Plaque provides the haven for the activities of Lactobacilli and these produce of lactic acid, which attacks the enamel by decalcifying it.

Commonly called chieftaincy leaf, Newbouldia laevis belongs to the plant family Bignoniaceae. To the Igbos it is ogirisi; the Tivs call it konkor and obat in Efik, nsor in Boyki, ikhimwin in Edo, àdùrúkù in Hausa, itömö in Ibibio, agishi in Jukun, ashishan in Tiv, and akoko in Yoruba.

Zanthoxylum zanthoxyloides formerly called Fagara zanthoxyloides is a very popular plant in Nigeria commonly used as chewing stick and in the treatment of sickle cell anaemia and tooth cavities. The plant belongs to the citrus family that is Rutaceae. It occurs more abundantly in the savannah and dry forest vegetation and is found in the drier parts of South Western Nigeria extending to Niger State. It is called Orin ata in Yoruba (chewing stick).

According to a study published last week in ScienceDaily but first reported in Malaria Journal, researchers at the School of Pharmacy, University of Oslo, Norway have shown that bark from Zanthoxylum zanthoxyloides contains substances that not only kill the malaria parasite, but also the mosquitoes that transmit the disease.

A study published in American Journal of Undergraduate Research titled validated the use of an extract made from leaves of the tree Newbouldia laevis as a bactericide for the bacteria implicated in dental caries.

Thirty toothache patients used the extract as a mouthwash and the mouthwash’s bactericidal action was tested under laboratory conditions. Bacteria action was arrested in 25 of the 30 patients.


Also, another study published in Journal of Microbiology Research by researchers from Department of Biological Sciences, Redeemer’s University, Mowe, Ogun State; and Deparment of Microbiology, OlabisiOnabanjo University, Ago-Iwoye, Ogun State, found that extracts of selected chewing sticks (Fagara zanthoxyloides, Anogeissus leiocarpus and Distemoranthus benthamianus) are potential candidates for the production of dentifrice and other natural products for oral hygiene and treatment of tooth problems.

The researchers found that both the aqueous and ethanol extracts of all the chewing sticks exhibited inhibitory activity on the growth of C. albicans, C. krusei and C. tropicalis. They said zones of inhibition produced by the different extracts against the Candida species were significantly different at standard of mean.

Another study published in International Journal of Pharmacology and Biological Sciences by Indian researchers from the Department of Periodontology, I.T.S Centre for dental studies and research, Delhi, noted: “Use of guava as a mouthwash. In southern Nigeria the twigs are used as chew sticks and the presence of bioactive compounds comprised of saponins, tannins, flavonoids, alkaloids is responsible for their effectiveness.

“In Brazil guava is considered an astringent and diuretic and is used for the same conditions as in Peru. Decoction is also recommended as a gargle for sore throats, laryngitis and swelling of the mouth. A decoction of the root-bark is recommended as a mouthwash for swollen gums and decoction of the leaves makes an efficacious gargle for swollen gum and ulceration of the mouth and also for bleeding gums.”

On the use of neem (Azadirachta indica) as a mouthwash, the researchers noted: “Extracts from neem sticks or bark have been shown to inhibit the growth of Streptococcus mutans. Wolinsky et al have examined the inhibitory effects of aqueous extracts of neem, derived from the bark-containing sticks (Neem stick) of A. indica upon bacterial aggregation, growth, adhesion to hydroxyapatite, and production of insoluble glucan, which may affect in vitro plaque formation. The Neem stick extract and the gallotannin-enriched extract from Melaphis chinensis inhibited insoluble glucan synthesis.

“Incubation of oral streptococci with the Neem stick extract resulted in a microscopically observable bacteria aggregation. These data suggest that Neem stick extract can reduce the ability of some streptococci to colonize tooth surfaces. In dentistry, A. indica has also demonstrated a good efficacy in the treatment of periodontal disorders. In a small trial from India, it was suggested that a dental gel containing A. indica extract has significantly reduced plaque index and bacterial count as compared to positive controls (chlorhexidine 0.2 %). Streptococcus mutans (S. mutans) in the saliva was found to be reduced significantly. The positive effect on dental health has been reported in epidemiological studies such efficacy of the herbal mouth rinses extract and the low dental caries among other natural bioactive products users.”


Another study published in Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Medicine found that three tropical plant materials – clove seeds, bitter kola fruits and tobacco leaves are potential targeted killers of Streptococcus mutans, a cavity-causing bacterium (gram-positive, facultative anaerobe) that resides in a multispecies microbial community (dental plaque) for the treatment of dental caries (tooth decay).

They concluded: “Since the n-hexane extract of clove seeds demonstrated preferential growth-inhibitory activity against the causal cariogenic pathogens (S. mutans) in dental caries, we therefore, report here that clove extract be henceforth considered as a potential ingredient in toothpaste preparation.”

Yet another study published in Indian Journal of Dental Resident noted that chewing twigs of the mango or neem tree is a common way of cleaning the teeth in the rural and semi-urban population. These twigs are also believed to possess medicinal properties.

The study evaluated the antimicrobial effects of these chewing sticks on the microorganisms Streptococcus mutans, Streptococcus salivarius, Streptococcus mitis, and Streptococcus sanguis, which are involved in the development of dental caries.

The results of the study showed that the mango extract, at 50 per cent concentration, showed maximum zone of inhibition on Streptococcus mitis while neem extract produced the maximum zone of inhibition on Streptococcus mutans at 50 per cent concentration. Even at five per cent concentration neem extract showed some inhibition of growth for all the four species of organisms.

The researchers concluded: “A combination of neem and mango chewing sticks may provide the maximum benefit. We recommend the use of both the chewing sticks.”


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