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Dental Hygiene Research Project Evaluates Natural Remedies

Written by Adam Zewe

hygiene studentsIs it possible to create an effective mouth rinse with products found on a grocery store shelf? That question launched a research project that earned four dental hygiene students high honors at a national convention.

Ashley Harrison, RDH '13, Elizabeth Bauer, RDH '13, Kimberly Groomes, RDH '13 and Renee Pyles, RDH '13 earned second place at the American Dental Hygienists' Association (ADHA) national research competition for their project, "Bactericidal Effectiveness of Natural Oils." The students, who are now recent graduates of the Dental Hygiene Program, received a total cash prize of $500. The University of Maryland School of Dentistry was awarded a matching grant.

The idea behind the project originated during a conversation Bauer had with a patient. The patient mentioned that she produced her own toothpaste at home using coconut oil. After doing a little bit of research, Bauer discovered that coconut oil has been found to be effective against certain types of bacteria. She partnered with Harrison, Groomes and Pyles to conduct a more in-depth study of natural oils. "There is a big push right now for consumers to use more natural products. However, it is important to actually know what these products are doing, rather than just trusting that they are working," she remarks.

Bauer and her colleagues grew bacteria on agar plates and then dropped samples of six different oils, as well as two antibiotics, onto the plates to evaluate their effectiveness at killing bacteria. The six oilsýolive oil, clove bud oil, eucalyptus oil, thyme oil and oregano oilýwere all consumer products purchased at a local grocery store.

These basic household products produced some surprising results: both thyme oil and oregano oil outperformed the antibiotics at killing bacteria. In fact, the thyme and oregano oil may have been too effective for an individual to use. "You wouldn't want to use the oils that kill too many bacteria because you need to have a natural balance of bacteria in the mouth. You don't want to kill the good bacteria along with the bad," states Groomes.

While the researchers were impressed by the bactericidal effectiveness of the two oils, they aren't ready to patent a thyme- or oregano-flavored mouth rise just yet. "They would make a terrible mouthwash. It would be hard to get a flavor or a smell that you would like using natural oils," says McCarl.

They agree, however, that the project served as a solid base for future research on the subject. After conducting such an in-depth study, they feel more confident discussing homeopathic remedies with their patients. "There are all sorts of TV shows about health that discuss holistic products. Unless you understand the effectiveness of the product, it is easy to believe that it is a viable alternative," McCarl concludes.

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