Alternatively Speaking: Open wide

Alternative medicine enthusiast Natalie Marx answers your questions: Any tips for treating mouth ulcers? Are there any alternative tips for sore throat.

Teeth (photo credit: Teeth)
(photo credit: Teeth)
Q. Natalie, I hope you can help me. I am having 8 teeth extracted at the end of this month. I am so nervous about the pain I will experience after the operation. Is there anything that you can recommend for post operative oral care? Thank you
 A. "Timing is very important in order to relieve the pain of a pulled tooth. For the first 24 hours after the extraction, place an ice pack (wrapped in a towel) on the area outside the mouth where the tooth was pulled in order to prevent swelling - 20 minutes on and 20 minutes off in order to minimize the swelling and pain," says Nabil Abaza, D.M.D., Ph.D., professor of dental medicine and oral and maxillofacial surgery at the Medical College of Pennsylvania Hospitals, Main Clinical Campus, in Philadelphia.
"But after the first 24 hours, switch to gargling gently with warm salt water. The heat soothes, and the salt water helps prevent infection and remove any food particles."One natural way to relieve the discomfort after a tooth extraction is to use either heat or cold. Some oral surgeons will actually send their patients home with cold compresses. These can reduce pain and also keep the swelling down. Some patients prefer the heat against their face to relieve the pain in their gums. Your choice is a matter of personal preference. Neither hot nor cold have advantages over the other. Simply apply the compress of choice over your face and wait for it to soothe the pain.Saltwater helps dull the pain of a tooth extraction plus helps protect the gums against infection. Simply take 1 tsp. of salt and stir it into a glass of warm water. Swish the water around on your mouth, gargle and rinse. Repeat this process whenever you feel pain or irritation in the gums. The pain will start to subside after a few days when using the saltwater rinse.
Clove oil has many pain-killing properties. Simply place a couple of drops of clove oil on the gums and the pain should lessen. You may wish to dab it on the area with a cotton swab. This will have to be repeated several times and some patients comment that the taste takes some getting used to. You can also rinse your mouth out with a glass of warm water that has a drop of clove oil added to it. This will penetrate the wound and pain and will help to heal. When it comes to dental health methods, clove oil is possibly one of the best things around that help to take care of all sorts of minor as well as major matters. Once you begin to brush your teeth again, you should try and get your hands on toothpaste that contains clove oil. This would not only help with maintaining tooth health and preventing decay, but will also help to strengthen your teeth.
Garlic is also a natural painkiller, reduces swelling and reduces the chance of infection. Simply take three or four cloves of garlic and combine it with a pinch of salt. Grind the two up into a paste and apply to the gums. You should notice the pain dissipating almost immediately.
One of the most effective ways to take care of any open wound is to apply a paste made with tumeric powder and rose water to it. This could be applied to the cavity or the open space left behind by the tooth and left there for some time. Turmeric powder has healing as well as anti septic properties that will be useful in healing the wound much faster than any other topical application.
I highly recommend taking vitamin C. Taking 1,500 milligrams of vitamin C daily (500 milligrams with each meal) can take a lot of the punch out of extractions, according to researcher Robert Halberstein, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Florida. He recommends those doses both before and after dental work.
"We found that people who take 1,500 milligrams of vitamin C daily-that's one 500-milligram tablet with each meal--for a couple of days prior to the extraction and then for a week afterward have a significantly faster healing process than those who don't take the supplements," says Dr. Halberstein. "Vitamin C speeds the healing process because it plays a major role in the manufacture of collagen in the body, which is a protein material that's instrumental in forming scar tissue."Bonus: Following this 1,500-milligram formula can reduce by sevenfold your chances of developing the painful inflammation of "dry-socket," which occurs in 1 of every 20 extractions. Finally another really effective but probably highly underrated method that will help to heal the wounds is sleep. Sleeping helps the body to rejuvenate and helps to increase the production of healing elements.  
Q. Do you have any tips for treating mouth ulcers?! I usually get them most when I'm stressed. I am currently finishing my PHD and under lots of stress! Please help, thanks.
A. Jonathan Wright, MD, of Kent, Washington, says that canker sores are virtually always linked to food allergies and nutritional deficiencies, particularly iron, B12, and folic acid. He also suggest using high oral doses of acidophilus and an acidophilus mouth rinse.
Since mouth ulcers stem from a breakdown in tissue structure, the herb gotu kola (Centella asiatica) can be quite effective. Gotu kola is widely known to heal wounds and promote connective tissue growth. The dose is one ounce dry weight of herb per day, brewed as tea. You can find this at any good herbal health store.
A recent study showed good results using a chamomile mouthwash in treating mouth ulcers caused by chemotherapy. Other rinses that can help include alum, Milk of Magnesia, and cinchona bark. I have had great results by applying the powder of myrrh gum directly to the ulcer.
Probably the most outstanding herbal remedy for mouth sores is licorice root, a potent anti-inflammatory and tissue healer. Put a pinch of powder on the sore, or suck on a lozenge made from DGL (de-glycyrrhizinated licorice).
Basil: Gargle warm water with basil leaves twice a day. This not only helps in treating the ulcers but can hold off the bad breath associated with mouth ulcers sometimes. Applying basil leaves paste on the affected area is also very effective. You can also chew basil leaves during the course of the day.
Onion: Try and eat a fair amount of raw salad, preferably onions. The reason why onion are the better option is because they contain lots of sulfur. You can directly eat raw onions and can also add onions to other food preparations.
Peppermint oil: It is an anesthetic agent. Dab some peppermint oil on the affected area – this will take away some of the irritation and pain caused by the mouth ulcers. But some studies say that peppermint oil can be good if used in small doses and it can create adverse effects if used in large quantities. It’s better to try slowly to find out whether it works for you.
Orange juice: Remember to drink orange juice regularly as Vitamin C deficiency can cause mouth ulcers. Drinking one or two glasses a day is sufficient. If you don’t like oranges then you can directly take Vitamin C pills instead.
Q. I have been suffering from a terrible sore throat and cant seem to get rid of it now for the last two weeks. Do you have any alternative tips to help?
A. My favourite 'sore throat' remedy to prescribe is Slippery elm. Up until 1960, it was listed in the United States Pharmacopeia (a compendium of drug standards). For sore throats, herbalists use the inner bark of the tree. The inner bark contains mucilage, a gel-like substance that swells when it is mixed with water. The mucilage works to reduce throat irritation and soothe sore throat.
Slippery elm is can be found in capsule form. It is a common ingredient in herbal lozenges, either on its own or combined with elderberry and zinc. Slippery elm is also found in herbal teas for sore throat. You can find it in all good health food stores.Another famous natural remedy is Calendula(Calendula officinalis). The flowers of this herb are well known to promote healing and to work as an anti-inflammatory, astringent and antiseptic. In addition, calendula is useful as a topical antiviral and is used to treat enlarged lymph nodes and sore throats. When combining herbs to fight infection, calendula is always one of the first herbs I recommend you to consider. Licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra) has a long history of use as an herbal remedy for sore throat. A study in Anesthesia & Analgesia examined the use of a licorice root gargle to prevent sore throat. Five minutes before general anesthesia, patients either gargled with a diluted licorice root solution or plain water. The patients who gargled with the licorice root solution were less likely to have a sore throat after surgery and experienced less post-operative coughing than other patients.
Licorice is a common ingredient in herbal teas for sore throat and you can find it in all good health stores and it has a naturally sweet taste.
Licorice should not be used in large amounts, as it can lead to high blood pressure, salt and water retention, low potassium levels, and can affect levels of the hormone cortisol. It should not be combined with diuretics, corticosteroids, or other medications that reduce potassium levels in the body. People with heart disease or high blood pressure should use caution when using licorice. Pregnant women should avoid licorice.
Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) is a herb I frequently prescribe for sore throat. It is used either as a fluid extract or as the essential oil. The dried leaf is used to sooth an irritable dry cough and has been used in the treatment of bronchitis, dry cough and sore throats. Thyme leaf contains an essential oil, which is the responsible for the antispasmodic action of thyme leaf. The main constituent of thyme oil is thymol which is a powerful antiseptic, which helps to treat infection associated with a sore throat.
Marshmallow, another fantastic herb that grows in North America and Europe, has been used for centuries as a sore throat remedy. Like slippery elm, marshmallow contains mucilage, which is thought to soothe the mucus membranes in the throat.
I recommend using it as a tea for relief. It is usually made by adding one tablespoon of the dried root to a cup (8 ounces) of boiling water and steeping it, covered, for 30 to 90 minutes before straining. I suggest up to three cups a day for a sore throat.
Consult a doctor before taking marshmallow if you have diabetes, as it may make your blood sugar too low especially when combined with diabetes medication. Marshmallow may also slow the absorption of other drugs taken at the same time. Marshmallow should not be taken by pregnant or nursing women.
Fenugreek is useful in sore throats where there are enlarged lymph nodes. This herb will help the lymph nodes to drain and is also a key herb in clearing congestion in the head associated with sinus infection. You can drink it as a tea, and I recommend it as a great gargle to sooth an inflamed sore throat.
An all time favourite and popular home remedy for sore throat is tea made with lemon, apple cider vinegar, cayenne, and honey. A typical recipe would be made by adding one teaspoon of apple cider vinegar, a tiny pinch of cayenne pepper, the juice of 1/4 lemon, and one teaspoon of honey to a cup of hot water and then stirring. Typically, up to four cups a day is suggested. Honey is a wonderful remedy to soothe and coate the throat.
Finally what every first aid box should have is Echinachea (Echinacea spp.) Native Americans used echinacea root to relieve sore throat, neck pain, enlarged lymph glands and as an anaesthetic for the throat. When taken internally, Echinacea builds resistance to infections acting mainly on the immune system to boost resistance to infection. The preventative dose range for Echinacea is 1000mg three times daily for adults and children over twelve.
This column is brought to you as general information only and unless stated otherwise is not medical advice nor is it based on medical experiments. This column is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. For more information about specific problems, please contact a doctor.
Ask Natalie: If you have a health query and would like an alternative answer then email Natalie with your question at [email protected]