Cholorhexidine: it’s a KILLER
Cholorhexidine is a common ingredient in most over the counter and prescription mouthwashes – as well as fluoride mouthwashes for cavity reduction. It is a bactericidal, intended to “kill the bacteria that causes bad breath.”
Cholorhexidine may or may not do that, but this chemical certainly kills the good microbes in your mouth that convert nitrate into nitrite, which then signals our body to create nitric oxide, or NO.*
And boy oh boy, do we need NO!
- Nitric oxide is a major antioxidant, which means it helps our bodies fight off unstable chemicals known as “free radicals.” Those bad guys are the byproducts of oxidation in our bodies, and in excess they damage cell membranes and other structures, and are connected to a variety of diseases (including heart disease, cancer, vision loss, arthritis, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s) as well as an acceleration of the aging process.
- Nitric oxide is a natural antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, and antiparasitic. We all need our bodies’ natural antiviral properties on high alert these days!
- Nitric oxide lowers blood pressure by increasing circulation, to all the organs (such as the kidneys), the brain, the major arteries and the sex organs. In fact, speaking of circulation to the sex organs, nitric oxide has often been called the “natural Viagra!”
What happens when our NO is low?
Erectile dysfunction in men gets a lot of attention, but the female equivalent (hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD) is a huge problem as well. Both signal a problem of reduced circulation, and can indicate low NO.
Hypertension and inflammation are associated with lower nitric oxide bioavailability, which could lead to any number of cardio metabolic events.
Elevated blood pressure. Studies have shown that daily use of mouthwash containing cholorhexidine can cause elevated blood pressure by interfering with that nitrate -> nitrite -> nitric oxide process. Huge problem, as high blood pressure puts you at risk for heart disease and stroke, and caused more than 670,000 deaths in the United States in 2020 alone! Shockingly, nearly half of adults in the United States have hypertension (higher than 130 systolic and/or 80 diastolic), or are medicated for it.
Bad bacteria. A further consequence of upsetting the bacterial balance in your mouth by killing off the good bacteria is the rise of bad bacteria that can wreak havoc on your health far outside of inflamed gums or tooth decay. For example, Porphyromonas gingivalis (Pg), Fusobacterium nucleatum (Fn), Prevotella intermedia (Pi) and Treponema denticola (Td), have been shown to cross the blood-brain barrier and be present in the brains and spinal fluid of people with Alzheimer’s Disease.
So what can you do if you want fresh breath without bombing out your NO production?
- Keep your diet clean. Minimize dietary sugars. Eat food that comes from a farm, not a factory. This will ensure that you have the proper enzymes and phytochemicals needed for health.
- Stay hydrated with fresh clean water. A dry mouth can be a stinky mouth!
- Clean your mouth surfaces at least twice a day, preferably after every time you eat. This includes your tongue, gums and inner cheeks, and flossing. Some people use a tongue scraper, which is a great idea. Oil pulling with organic coconut oil can also be a great practice. We love the Water Pik.
- Breathe with your mouth closed! If this is a challenge for you, try using a small strip (just one small strip, not taping your whole mouth shut) of medical tape over your closed lips to retrain yourself – including while you sleep (if the tape is too sticky so that it hurts your lip skin, “de-sticky” it on your shirt a few times before taping over your mouth).
- Limit caffeine. And for goodness sake quit smoking, if you do. Both of these are notorious for causing bad breath.
- Use products that work with your body, not against it. By that, I mean use a toothpaste that doesn’t blast your mouth with chemical ingredients, like a night cleaner disinfecting a grocery store floor. I like THIS brand, which uses pure essential oils and herbs to get a beautiful clean fresh result. I use their toothpaste daily, as well as their tonic. Linda loves their Under the Gum Irrigant in her Water Pik. (Side note: after a year of using this and also oil-pulling with coconut oil regularly, her “pockets” measured significantly smaller at her dental cleaning.) I do stock them in my clinic but they are readily available online as well.
Final IMPORTANT note:
Your mouth can tell a lot about your health. If your breath is foul, it can be a sign of deeper health issues. You shouldn’t need mouthwash to have good breath. If you have a geographic tongue, a coated tongue, or a fissured tongue, it can indicate dysbiosis in your gut or a nutritional deficiency, among other things. I always include the mouth as part of my initial examination for my Functional Health clients, looking for all the puzzle pieces to put together a complete picture. Please reach out if I can be of service to you or someone you care about.
I hope this article gave you food for thought. If it did, remember to brush afterwards! LOL
If you know someone who can benefit from reading this, please pass it along. Help me heal the planet one person at a time.
*Guess what else can kill the good bacteria in your mouth? Processed food, tooth whitening products and antibiotics.