Earlier this year, I achieved something that has always been a big deal to me: getting good teeth.
Notice I didn’t say "pretty teeth." They still look like I’ve been opening cans with them, but I got a clean bill of health from the dentist for the first time ever, in my life. I’m sure the dreams of all my teeth falling out while I frantically try to catch the pieces aren’t going away, but now that eight years of dull, random tooth pain is behind me, I’ll take it.
Even more so, the stress of having bad teeth and the possibility of a major infection with costly consequences isn’t looming over me either.
I’ve become an obsessive observer of oral hygiene. I was gifted a Sonicare toothbrush (the base model is about $50), I bought fluoridated toothpaste, started flossing, and started using mouthwash all the time, because I’ll be damned if I’m shelling out any more money for a strange old man and his awkward lady friend to dabble around in my face.
I now use mouthwash frequently, to beat back the ever-growing colonies of acid-producing bacteria in my mouth. I should probably get a medal for that. Sugar and carbohydrates are quickly digested by bacteria, converting it into acids, and these acids are what eats away at your tooth enamel, much like the way tannin-rich, acidic rainwater cuts easily through limestone karst to create the mysterious cenotes of Latin America.
The irony of my newfound love of mouthwash, is that I always thought of it as some superfluous product, like tissues. Just use toilet paper, suckers. But the biggest difference I’ve seen has been in my gums--so pink, so healthy! About 60% of the of the U.S. population has the gingivitis, and chronic gum inflammation is horrifically common in young people.
I’m better than 60% of people! That’s unusual for me!
The only issue I have with mouthwash? It made my mouth taste like butts. Every morning, I’d wake up, and my mouth tasted gross. I'd take a pull of the blue stuff about five times a day, and after the swish, and minty taste faded and I’m always left with a gross taste in my mouth, like I’d been licking the inside of an old couch.
I switched to pricey natural brands, but didn’t like the flavours. (Fennel? Why not hot-dog-flavoured? Communists.). Or they were packed with processed or artificial sweeteners, which can actually be digested by the bacteria in your mouth, and therefore have no place in mouthwash. Bacteria are way less picky than us about food; they will happily digest many of the fake sugars, and their waste is what was making my mouth taste sick.
I don’t eat anything with synthetic flavours or dyes in them, not only to avoid possible toxicity, but just out of principle: if it has fake crap in it, it’s probably not very good for me in general. Why should mouthwash be any different? Sodium laureth sulfate, sucralose, sorbitol, saccharin, F&D yellow, blue and red? I don’t want any of this synthesized garbage in familial contact with my mucus membranes.
Of course it was only a matter of time until I made my own.
When I started looking for DIY mouthwash recipes, I was kind of shocked how many of them use vinegar. STOP! Desist! I love vinegar a lot, and this comes from a place of love: it’s just about the worst thing you can have sitting in your mouth--the acid eats away tooth enamel like a soft cheddar.
Even if you’re a beginning DIYer, you probably have everything you need already. Homemade mouthwash essentially has three parts: water, antiseptic, and flavour. You can also add medicinal tinctures and oils to treat gum issues or to heal trauma.
If you have to have sweetener to make it palatable, I’d recommend using stevia, but it tastes like fire. Use the powdered leaf or tincture; it’s way cheap and is much less processed that the white creepy powder they somehow made out of a leaf. (Seriously, food chemists, please, things have gotten quite out of hand.)
For the antiseptic, you can use:
• Alcohol of your choice. Unflavoured rum, vodka, or gin are all terrific; mix cup for cup with water.
• Sea salt. Two tablespoons per cup of water is sufficient.
• Baking soda. One tablespoon per cup of water will both neutralize acids and kill bacteria.
I generally use sea salt, especially after any dentistry or mouth trauma. The flavour is the best part; basically anything you can dream up, you can put to mouthwash. When you’re flavouring with fresh ingredients, you can leave them in the mouthwash unrefrigerated (the salt, baking soda or alcohol will preserve it for at least a month), or just pull them out after a few days. If you’re using alcohol, you can soak your fresh ingredients in it ahead of time to draw out the flavour.
My favourite flavour combos combine fresh ingredients and essential oils (per two cups of mouthwash):
• Blood orange and ginger. Four drops blood orange essential oil, and four slices of raw ginger
• Clove, cinnamon and tangerine. One drop of clove essential oil, two of cinnamon and one of tangerine essential oil.
• Grapefruit and sage. Four drops pink grapefruit essential oil, one sprig fresh sage.
• Rosemary and lavender. Two drops each rosemary and lavender essential oils.
• Mint and vanilla. Two drops peppermint essential oil, drop a split vanilla bean; to cheat, add a tsp vanilla extract, and next time, get your beans on Amazon for... well, beans.
You can also add tea tree oil for its antiseptic powers, clove oil to dull tooth pain, and a myrrh tincture to disinfect any healing dental work or trauma. I love tea tree oil to help heal me up after a dentist’s been wrenching about in my mouth, but I know it’s an acquired taste.
Have I gone too far? What mouthwash do you use? I’m super-nostalgic for the Listerine that looks like gasoline, yet tastes like gasoline. Mostly, this project just made me want to build a distillery for some reason.