Can Neem Treat Gum Disease: A Consideration of the Evidence by the Sacramento Dentistry Group

Neem is a popular tree in the Middle East and Asia for use in oral health care. As neem products become available in the United States, many dental patients wonder if it is actually effective at preventing bacterial growth and for use in curing gum disease.

In the Middle East and Asia, especially the subcontinent of India, products of the neem tree (Azadirachta indica) are traditionally used for dental purposes. Compounds in the leaves, bark and stems have anti-bacterial properties, making them useful for cleaning the teeth. Although one would imagine that caution and proper technique are necessary to avoid splinters, people often buy packages of the sticks for use as toothbrushes, or simply make their own by using the readily available parts of the plant. Therefore, patients have asked if neem products, such as neem oil, can be used to cure gum disease. The answer to this question is a solid “it depends.”

An Alternative Therapy Reminder

Patients seek alternative therapies to standard medical treatments for a variety of reasons. When they do, it is important for dental patients to realize that, unless they are simply eating a common food in its relatively unprocessed state, any plant-based therapy should still be considered a type of medicine. The problem with such therapies, however, is that proper dosages are often based on folklore, not rigorous study. Oils, extracts and supplements may not be produced under rigorous guidelines to guarantee their safety, content or efficacy for the desired use. Any alternative therapy must, therefore, come with a strong “buyer beware.”

Secondly, no medical therapy should be undertaken without consultation with a doctor, or in this case, a dentist. Gum disease is a serious problem that can lead to tooth loss and is linked to heart problems, diabetic complications and difficulties during pregnancy. Therefore, seeking the advice of a dentist before beginning any alternative treatment for gum disease is critical.

Scientific Studies on Neem

India produces many of the studies on neem's connection to oral health, as might be expected since that is part of the neem plant’s native range. While it seems clear from the number of positive studies that neem is useful as part of an oral hygiene regimen in the prevention of gum disease, less has been said about its effectiveness for curing gum disease. One study published in the Journal of the Indian Society for Periodontology does indicate that neem mouthwash reduces the effects of gum disease nearly as well as chlorhexidine, a common prescription antibacterial mouthwash. It is important to note, however, that the Indian dentists concluded their report on using neem by saying “it can be used as an adjunct to mechanical therapy for treating plaque-induced gingivitis.” What does this mean?

Gum disease is almost always accompanied by the presence of plaque and tartar. These colonial structures of bacteria protect them with sticky film and hard calculus from fluoride, toothbrushes, water and mouthwash. They also irritate the gums, making it difficult for the tissues to heal. Therefore, while neem mouthwash may succeed in treating gum disease, it can only do so if a dentist first removes the likely buildup of plaque and tartar, thus exposing the bacteria to the beneficial compounds contained in the neem tree or other standard medicines.

The Sacramento Dentistry Group is available to help you with this “mechanical therapy” necessary to both cure and prevent gum disease. Such therapy is part of every semi-annual visit for an exam and cleaning. Combined with regular toothbrushing, flossing and, if you so choose, the mouthwash product of your choice, stopping the effects of gum disease is possible. For more information, visit sacramentodentistry.com, contact them online or call at 916-538-6900.

Source: Sacramento Dentistry Group

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